Every student of Principia is affected by the efficiency of Dining Services, so when things aren’t running well, people notice. This semester, a lack of employees is certainly affecting us all.
Working your way through the dining room, it’s impossible to get food without interacting with a student worker. Whether it’s the hot line server who filled your plate with food, the stocker who just refilled the salad bowls, the cashier who swiped your card, or the dishwasher who took care of your mess, you will interact with a student worker at one point or another. Student manager Hannah Schlomann commented on the lack of Dining Services employees, saying, “If the library was short-staffed, not as many people would notice, but because we can’t function without student workers, it’s really obvious when we’re short-staffed.”
We asked Dining Services staff why it has been struggling so much lately. The answer we heard most often had to do with the demographics of the student body. Student manager Igor Souza said, “I think it’s the lack of current freshman willing to work with us.”
Schlomann concurred. She said, “From my speculation, it’s the freshman class this year that’s not working as much, and because the upperclassmen are moving out, like they’re supposed to…there’s [nobody] replacing [them].” With the change in the natural cycle of student workers, there is now a growing gap that needs to be filled.
Another demographic to consider is that of international students versus domestic students. Senior manager Brian Day said that 70% of student workers in Dining Services are international and 30% are domestic. While there may be more domestic students at Principia in number, Day also said that international students tend to work more hours than their American counterparts.
The reason for this disparity is that international students generally have more financial obligations. Reagan Kongolo, a non-traditional student from the Democratic Republic of Congo, said, “I am one of those international students who pays their tuition on their own. International students find themselves in conditions where they need more hours. However, this becomes difficult because the visa status only allows [international students] to work a certain number of hours… It becomes a big challenge when you need to pay more than what you are getting paid.”
The Piasa Pub particularly suffers when there is a lack of student workers. When staff is low, employees behind the counter seem to be stressed and customers become frustrated with the slow service.
The new time monitors and the replacement of runners with buzzers have improved timeliness and efficiency, but workers are still needed to complete orders and run both the grill and shake counter. There’s only so much the new system can do. What the pub needs is willing workers to fill more shifts.
There’s been discussion of an issue concerning pay and a lack of incentive to work some of the more unappealing jobs. Sophomore Evan Dauterman shared what he’s heard from other students about some of the not-so-enjoyable pub shifts. “The only positions that students can work are the late night shifts, and those are not fun. Dumping and cleaning compost bins is a job nobody wants.”
In addition to these unpopular shifts, students are finding it challenging to commit to their allotted hours. Managers, too, struggle to be as committed as the Pub needs them to be. One would assume that the pay would be higher for Pub managers because of the added responsibility and number of duties. However, managers get paid only a few cents more than first-year Pub employees.
In contrast to the Pub, the dining room has been able to improve its staff count since last semester. Brian Day said that, currently, the dining room has all shifts covered. At this time last semester, they were still trying to fill open shifts. He added, “We have good workers, just not enough of them. And that’s been our experience almost all the time. It’s just getting them in the door sometimes.”
Student Manager Igor Souza agreed that it is difficult to find these people. “People are kind of scared to work with Dining Services for some reason,” he said. Perhaps one reason is that working in the dining room means long hours. Schlomann added, “It’s not a super glorious job, honestly.”
Souza mentioned that there is a lack of commitment from student workers in the dining room, too. “Managers are expecting people to show up, and when they don’t, we have a problem,” he said.
Day discussed how Dining Services handles shifts that aren’t filled and what happens people don’t show up. “You adapt,” he said. “You pull people from other areas to help during the rush to fill in as they’re needed.”
Dining services has been very conscientious about the changes they need to make in order to improve things for their workers and their customers. Recently, the Dining Room mounted digital displays in various places around the dining room and are encouraging customers to text in their comments about how Dining Services is functioning. This allows students to share their thoughts anonymously and allows the staff to see which issues are most discussed by the student body.