Students in Service and Leadership at Harvard

Story of Dunster Grille

Harvard University, much like other elite colleges, is willing to spend large sums of money (sometimes hundreds of thousands of dollars) in order to create communities for its students. To varying degrees, these communities generate group identities and facilitate network formation among their members. Among the communities that I have seen with the strongest social cohesion are those that allow students to adopt those communities as part of their identities. At Harvard, these communities often take the form of the undergraduate Houses that have been assigned to all students, whether students like it or not.

Physically contained within some of these Houses are student food establishments, late-night eateries managed by students but provided with support from House administrators. These undergraduate Grilles and Cafe serve as mechanisms to strengthen House communities as non-exclusive third spaces on campus. As an employee and now manager at Dunster Grille, I have seen firsthand how pride in Dunster Grille and the inherent openness of the space has created an important community and concept for Dunster identity to center on. While Dunster has struggled to rouse enthusiasm and participation in intramural sports and HoCo events, Dunster Grille consistently has enough employees and customers to run nearly every day of the school year and turn a profit, frequently collaborating with HoCo and other House organizations for events. 

As one of the two Grille Managers, I am responsible for hiring employees, scheduling shifts, organizing training, ordering and unpacking food from Sysco, submitting payroll, and keeping track of revenue and budgetary information. In addition, I am responsible for trying to foster community among employees and assist in fostering community among the broader Dunster community by hosting special events and providing food for study breaks and other events run by HoCo.

After conducting research last semester on the student food establishments more generally, I'm interested in seeing how Dunster Grille can do a better job of fulfilling the institutional goals for student food establishments. According to my research from last semester, the goal of creating community is among the most important motivations for having a grille in Dunster, more so than creating employment opportunities, making profit, or providing direct food service to undergraduate students. The grille is an important and effective part of the living-learning community that Harvard strives for in its undergraduate House system.

In my work as Grille Manager, I have often felt that these goals are secondary to goals of breaking even and trying to make sure that grille finances are in order. In addition, transitions between grille managers are difficult to accomplish well when the transition occurs over the summer and previous grille managers graduate and head off to jobs far away from Boston. Grille managers operate in a difficult space between student and administrator where they are paid liaisons between House administrators and student employees with pressures from both ends without the expertise, experience, or ability to operate in the larger Harvard bureaucracy without the assistance of administrators. In particular, paying invoices, maintenance fees, and payroll have to happen through multiple levels of administration, so when mistakes happen it is extremely difficult to track down the source and/or remedy the mistake.

I believe a number of reforms could help to make the grille run more efficiently and accomplish the goal of creating community more easily. Among the reforms I wanted to explore for increased efficiency are:
Among the reforms I wanted to explore to better foster community in the House are:
While some of these reforms were ones that I tried to undertake this semester, many of them were better suited to researching and then creating an action plan to pitch to House administrators for next year.

​​​​​​​To explore this question, I used four main sources of data. First, I used interview data from research I conducted last semester to identify administrative priorities for the grilles more broadly. Second, I used an employee feedback survey to gauge their opinions on some changes from early on in the semester to identify employee priorities. Third, I used a customer feedback survey distributed to the Dunster House email list to identify community priorities. Finally, I used our revenue and sales data to examine the outcomes of certain reforms.

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