UMN students conduct survey for Gray’s Cafe

The Net Impact student group usually assists nonprofits, but has turned to helping local Dinkytown businesses.


David Stager

The interior of Gray’s, a restaurant and cafe in Dinkytown on Tuesday, Dec. 14. Gray’s is partnering with a class of UMN Carlson students to analyze their social media and marketing approaches.

by Caleb Hensin

Net Impact, a University of Minnesota student group, worked with Gray’s Cafe in Dinkytown throughout the fall semester to survey customers and increase their presence on social media.

The group operated Gray’s social media and gathered survey results through the fall semester and they plan to continue in the spring semester. The over 400 respondents indicated that they were college-aged and used the space to study.

The group worked with nonprofits in past semesters, but took an interest in Dinkytown’s small businesses this year.

“I wanted to expand into local businesses in Dinkytown because I’m passionate about the way it looks right now,” said Madison Romain, a third-year student majoring in supply chain and operations management. “When I first started attending the University, it made college feel like home, and it’s been hard to watch some of the local businesses there start to close.”

Romain led the student team working with Gray’s Cafe, which has been in Dinkytown for over 100 years.

Owner Lynn Nyman gave the students access to the social media accounts and they went to work. The group posted on social media and hung up fliers around campus with QR codes to fill out a survey about the cafe.

“I wanted to let them do their thing without interrupting daily business,” Nyman said. “It seemed like a good opportunity for all of us.”

Olivia Alberts is a third-year student double majoring in computer science and management information systems. She attended Net Impact meetings and analyzed the data from the survey.

“I was intrigued by the opportunity to make a real impact at a community business I visit with my friends often,” Alberts said.

Alberts said that the larger sample size helped the accuracy of their findings.

The survey asked demographic questions such as age and why the participants visited Gray’s Cafe. Participants also answered how likely they were to participate in different events, such as karaoke nights, and how likely they were to buy happy hour deals.

“It became clear that students ages 18 to 24 primarily view Gray’s as a study spot, but they would like to go to Gray’s for the bar aspect as well,” Alberts said. About 70% of students answered “coffee shop vibes” as their perception of Gray’s.

“When asked which deals they would be most interested in, ‘alcohol deals’ was the top choice, with an overall 82% approval rating,” Alberts said. Coffee deals were a close second.

According to Alberts’ analysis, 29% of people who filled out the free response section said that price was an important factor.

“This shows that above being a study spot or a bar, price is the primary motivating factor for students,” Alberts said.

Net Impact members created advertisements, a strategy proposal and a social media toolkit, particularly for Gray’s Instagram account.

Alberts said the group intends for the project with Gray’s to continue into the spring semester. Romain said she also plans to assist more Dinkytown businesses, such as The Book House, a local used book store that opened in 1976, and Alpha Print, a print service shop.

“I’m excited to keep the ball rolling with this project now that we have a better understanding of what the Dinkytown community wants from Gray’s,” Albert said.