Short-staffed dining halls are still searching for employees

Short-staffed dining halls are still searching for employees

At the start of the semester, Calvin’s dining services had 17 openings. During the last five weeks, they’ve narrowed the gap to nine. But the dining staff is still stretched thin.

Services that used to be offered no longer exist. For instance, there are no grill items at Johnny’s because CDS can’t find a cook to work there. Instead of working in one location, staff have to split their time between multiple locations, and in addition to their usual responsibilities, managers are working alongside their employees. The employees CDS is hiring aren’t as experienced as they were in the past, which means training takes more time and energy. And, due to additional shortages in the supply chain, CDS can’t offer many of the dishes they once did.

Other universities across the state and the country are dealing with the same problem. Michigan State University’s dining staff of 4,000 has been reduced to 400. In response, they closed their dining facilities to the public and are shuttling students to their remaining open dining locations. Northwestern University’s dining service employees are striking against the institution’s food service provider. At Vanderbilt University, students often have to wait an hour or more to get lunch. This is part of a larger nationwide hiring crisis. The food service and hospitality industries have been hit particularly hard. 

Dining services gave popcorn, t-shirts and water bottles to employees to thank them. (Photo by Todd Kurtz)

According to Chef Todd Kurtz, Creative Dining Services, Calvin’s food service provider, started posting jobs in early June. Hiring was slow until the middle of August. It picked up again around September 1 when the coronavirus stimulus benefits ran out.

To compete with other employers, CDS instituted hiring, retention and referral bonuses. They also raised the wages of current employees to match those of incoming employees. 

“We’ve identified what we want the students’ dining experience to look like. And then from that, we’ve had to make reductions in terms of how we offer food based on not being able to staff those positions,” Kurtz said. 

Kurtz emphasized that his main priority is taking care of current staff before hiring more people. He believes that the wage increase needed to happen because “a lot of employees in this industry have been underpaid.” 

Food Service Employees Day was on Sept. 25 (Photo by Todd Kurtz)

During Food Service Employees Day on Sept. 25, CDS hosted a special get-together.

“We gave them popcorn, t-shirts and these water bottles. We help them decorate [the water bottles] with stickers that we put out on the tables,” Kurtz said. “We just need to thank them and understand that they are working under conditions that are unprecedented.”

Those interested in applying to work for Calvin’s dining services can apply at Students can apply via Workday.