Dining services faces labor shortage at beginning of semester

Putnam dining hall (Jason Jiang/The Daily Campus)

University of Connecticut Dining Services’ current shortage of student staff has led to changes in the operating hours of some dining halls.

“Fall is always a challenge because you don’t have access to students prior to them arriving on campus and you have a significant turnover in student staff from the spring semester,” Director of Dining Services, Dennis Pierce, said.

As a result of this staffing shortage, which Pierce said Dining Services experiences for about the first four weeks of every fall, Putnam’s juice bar is shutting down at 2:15 p.m. and the lower portion of the dining unit is not open some days. The Northwest Grab and Go’s hours have also been affected.

“Until it settles out there are a lot of these issues and you have to do the best with what you have and sometimes that means there’s a service area we can’t maintain during this time,” Pierce said.

Jungin Kim, a third-semester mechanical engineering and applied mathematics double major who works at Putnam said the shortages have made his job more difficult.

“Usually a student employee is accompanied by one of the kitchen workers (to wash dishes). However, when it’s just student employees, we work a lot slower, even going 30 minutes past the end of our shifts,” Kim said. “Washing pans is not an easy task. The stack of pans seems to never end.”

Kim said he has received frequent emails from the unit manager asking for coverage for various shifts since the beginning of the year.

“Student managers are scrambling to fill a shift but at that point people aren’t committing because they don’t necessarily know their schedules,” Pierce said.

Pierce said all dining units are experiencing problems filling shifts right now, particularly during lunchtime during the week and evening shifts at locations that serve late night food, such as the Student Union.

“We get to pick our own hours in the beginning of the semester and we can swap or drop shifts to better fit our schedule,” one student Dining Services worker said.

Pierce said the shifts are gradually being filled.

“Daily, it’s getting better as far as students coming forward and looking for work and this is the norm,” Pierce said.

Workers often come from a background of working in the food service industry or hearing a friend talk about his/her experience working for Dining Services, and most work for dining services for the duration of their time at UConn, Pierce said.

“I would have preferred to work anywhere else, but Dining Services was the only one who contacted me back,” one worker said.

The worker said she has had a generally positive experience with Dining Services but the work can be difficult at times.

“The work is pretty hard and the conditions can be hard to bear in certain areas,” she said, “I’ve had some experience with rude student managers but I’ve had a fairly decent experience in dining services.”

Pierce said many students, particularly those who rise to managerial positions, benefit from the work experience Dining Services provides them with.

“Not many students can go into the business world and say ‘I’ve already had that kind of experience’,” Pierce said.

Pierce said his own experience as a dish washer at his college led him to his current position.

“When I was in college I washed pots,” Pierce said. “I once was a student employee and now I’m the director of Dining Services.”


Anna Zarra Aldrich is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at anna.aldrich@uconn.edu. She tweets @ZarraAnna.