Campus Dining staff shortage leads to reduced hours, disposable dishware, longer lines

Students lining up at multiple cashiers to pay for the meals in the Marketplace at Occidental College in Los Angeles, Sept. 8, 2021. Kendall Kitahara/The Occidental.

Since Occidental’s in-person return, the Marketplace staff has been working hard to feed the student body despite a staffing shortage, according to Amy Muñoz, associate vice president for hospitality services. A Sept. 3 email announced that the Tiger Cooler hours will now be from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. on weekdays and 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. on weekends. The Coffee Cart is temporarily closed due to a lack of available staff.

Muñoz said Campus Dining serves students three meals a day, seven days a week. Within the last 30 days, two regular staff have retired and two have resigned, Muñoz said. Some staff who were furloughed last year decided not to return, according to Muñoz.

Muñoz said the resignations coupled with the number of employees who didn’t return after their furlough were factors that led to the reduced Tiger Cooler hours and Coffee Cart closure. She said the Coffee Cart required two full-time employees — 80 hours of weekly work that Campus Dining could reallocate to other dining locations. Occidental changed to using disposable plates and to-go boxes during the pandemic to protect workers’ health, according to Muñoz, but they have continued using them because of the limited dish room staff and ongoing health and safety protocols.

“We’re using either a cardboard container, or we’re using a pulp plate, both of which are compostable,” Muñoz said. “We hope that you’ll use the pulp plate if you’re staying in the building because it creates less trash. It’s easier to stack so you don’t end up with overflowing piles.”

Reusable cups for soup and oatmeal have replaced the ceramic bowls in the Marketplace at Occidental College in Los Angeles, Sept. 8, 2021. Kendall Kitahara/The Occidental

Muñoz said she is aware of the lack of late-night dining options. Muñoz said she knows late-night dining is a part of the student experience, but she is concerned about burning staff out by making them work overtime, which is also more expensive.

Isa Merel (junior), the Campus Dining lead intern for sustainability research and implementation, said she is filling in additional roles due to the lack of staff. According to Merel, she’s been filling in new COVID-19 roles like monitoring the door of the Marketplace. Merel said her position as lead intern usually involves sustainability research and implementation.

“They [the Marketplace] were already working their staff to their limits. There were a lot of staff members that were doing six days. They couldn’t do more than that. They have lives and families. So I was happy to fill in where needed,” Merel said.

Mercedes Pelayo, a cashier at the Marketplace, said the Marketplace has been busy, but they are making it work.

“I think we’ve been able to manage, but I know that some areas have been having trouble, like maintenance and sanitation,” Pelayo said. “But when we’re able to coordinate the schedules the way our supervisors do it, I think it’s been good.”

Pelayo said it helps the check-out lines move faster when students have their cards ready and keep their to-go boxes open.

“Some of the students get mad because we ask them to open their boxes, but it’s not because we want to — we have to,” Pelayo said. “Some students in the past have snuck an extra pizza or salad in the boxes.”

Students and staff wear masks at all times the Marketplace in order to prevent the spread of any COVID-19 cases at Occidental College in Los Angeles, Sept. 10, 2021. Abbott Hoeven/The Occidental.

Merel said she knows that students are frustrated with the waste that disposable dishware causes, which is why she encourages students to use an Eco Clamshell. According to Merel, using an Eco Clamshell also means there is less trash to dispose of.

“I’ve seen a lot of people posting on Instagram about the trash overflowing. And I’m just as frustrated, especially because the to-go boxes are compostable. I would love for all of it to be composted,” Merel said.

Muñoz said there are ways for students to get more involved with Campus Dining and express their opinions or concerns.

“We have an anonymous suggestion box — you can reach that on the front page of our website,” Muñoz said. “We ideally try to publish responses twice a month. And we’re aiming to have the suggestions that have come in thus far posted within the next week.”