Hospitality employees address problems with understaffing

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Students and faculty have been voicing concern over a continuous transition of staff in dining service locations across campus.

Having noticed a lack of personnel in areas such as Dutch Oven, Upperclass Dining Hall, West Dining Hall and The Rathskellar Grill, students have observed an overall undermanned and turbulent process during mealtimes.

Individuals articulated further suspicion after an ad in Schenectady’s Daily Gazette was published, prospecting locals to apply for Dining Services employment.

According to employees of Union Hospitality, the lack of fluidity in the changeover between the old Sodexo management and the new American Dining Creations management derives from a lack of staff, and furthermore a shift in management policies and food preparation protocols.

“We’re documenting things on paper much more than we did under Sodexo. We’re also seeing people taking on multiple roles on some shifts. Right now it seems like we’re documenting things more and trying to do more with less,” says one Union Hospitality employee.

Dining hall employees in Dutch Hollow, although regarding additions such as nachos, Nitro-Brew Coffee and burrito-fillers, have conveyed disapproval of various additions that call for more time and preparation put into items that do not sell. One employee states that the new “Fusion Water” is an item that “simply does not sell – not to mention each pitcher takes anywhere from 20 to 30 minutes to make, then has to be chilled overnight.”

One Union Hospitality employee summarizes their experience: “As an employee who has worked under both American Dining Creations and Sodexo management, I think the biggest difference between the two companies is as follows: Sodexo had a set system that developed over the years, and they deviated very little from that. Their main approach was to try to stick with what works, and provide a staff full enough to handle the biggest rushes. Their expectations were always clear ahead of time, and Sodexo management was always quick to jump in and help when staff was short or customer flow was heavier than expected.

American Dining Creations is a new company to the college, and they are trying to put their own spin on things. I like the concept of striving to be a top school in the nation from a dining perspective. However, from the perspective of the average employee, the path to being a ‘top 20 school’ is nebulous at best. Changes happen randomly and with no warning, often frustrating and confusing staff. I feel that random changes like these create unnecessary expenses that cost money which could otherwise be put into improving quality of the food itself.”

Union Hospitality employees have also detected a negative change is in how the new management accommodates student’s needs and desires.

One employee states, “With all this emphasis being placed on burritos, I seem to have noticed that, especially since the beginning of this term, the number of beef and chicken cheesesteaks increasing rapidly. Why? I think people just get tired of burritos, and want something different. Couple this with the lack of cold-cuts, no more ovens, or pizza, few options in this regard remain.”

Another Union Hospitality employee says, “We’re regularly short-staffed, which creates longer lines; I don’t mind feeding a large amount of people, I just hate seeing students have to wait when they may be on limited time. I’d like to see more of a focus on meeting the demands of the customer flow we see on a daily basis first, rather than on changing things seemingly for the sake of change, at least until our food production is there.”

According to an employee in Dutch Hollow, the two-line concept, which is new to with the 2016-2017 year, is a prime example of this. Although it ideally decreases wait times, having an understaffed kitchen causes awkwardness in deciding the priority of a customer.

Other employees have mentioned that moving items such as the toaster, pizza, cold-cuts, egg salad, chicken salad and tuna to O3 has made for a greater demand in O3. Dutch employees often have to assist the line at O3, leaving Dutch with continuous pressure of being understaffed.

To hear management’s perspective on the reasons behind these conjectures, we met with Director of Union Hospitality Chip Mecca and Director of Campus Engagement Donna Reichel. Mecca affirmed that he does not consider dining services to be fully-staffed at this time, and that this circumstance is majorly due to factors such as a voluntary decrease in student labor and internal promotion.

In areas such as the Rathskellar Grill, student labor has proved “inconsistent.” “They are getting less reliable, and putting pressure on the unit staff,” states Mecca. Mecca has thus established a three-strike system, in which students are compelled to minimize their infractions while at work. This has led to a decrease in student labor around campus, leaving some positions yet to be filled with full-time staff.

Mecca also brought up the Rivers Casino and Resort: the new casino in Schenectady that is set to open this week, Wednesday, Feb. 8.

The installation of the casino has caused a number of dining services employees to quit their jobs under American Dining Creations, in order to take on positions at the Rivers Casino and Resort.

When asked about filling positions, Mecca stated, “We prefer to promote from within.”
In response to questions of whether American Dining Creations has fired individuals who had been previously employed by the Sodexo management, Mecca stated ”we have not terminated anyone.”

When asked about the employment ad in the Daily Gazette, Mecca replied that Human Resources is responsible for how available positions are advertised. Mecca restated that he prefers to promote from within, and that in doing so, more positions are often left in need of filling.

Concerning the criteria in which American Dining Creations bases their hiring process, Mecca says that he looks for longevity and prior experience in applicants.
However, when asked the question “In your opinion, do you see any aspects of the new dining services that might be considered controversial within staff who have previously worked under Sodexo?” Mecca was unsure of how to respond. Mecca expressed that his “Open Door Policy” is commonly overlooked, and that his hope is for employees to come to him directly with any issues they encounter under his management.

According to a Union Hospitality employee, “The new company is still finding their way in our unit at least, and there have been some bumps in the road along the way.”

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