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The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

WTF am I doing working in the Dining Hall?

We’ve all experienced the atrociously long lines in the dining hall, especially during the start of the year when the stations are loaded with new employees fumbling to keep up with the hoards of ravenous students. Often, however, the aggravation doesn’t stop at the agonizing wait, but you sit down to find that your sandwich has an excess of condiments or your stir-fry is watery and bland. Student diners aren’t the only ones confused—many dining hall complaints can be traced back to student workers who themselves are asking, “WTF am I supposed to be doing working in the dining hall?”

Turns out, the Grinnell Dining Services offers no formal employee training component before workers begin their first shift. Moreover, once on the job, students receive only minimal instruction from supervisors and are expected to “figure it out” on their own with the help of their coworkers.

Claire Williams ’13, who works sanitation, recalls her confusion on her first day. “One of the supervisors just told me, ‘Here’s a rag, here’s a bucket. Wipe the surfaces. Go,’ without telling me anything else,” Williams said.

The problem is often exacerbated when coupled with the inexperience of “returning” employees, who are expected to train the new employees regardless of their expertise. “Once they gave me three new people to train, after I’d worked my shift once,” said Susannah Stengel ’12, who works in the deli line.

The lack of employee training also clouds the responsibilities and expectations of the employees. “What they do is they add an increasingly intricate layer of rules to our job,” Stengel said. “And they don’t often feel that it’s necessary to include us in the new rules.”

This gap in communication between employees and their overseers can make both parties frustrated, sometimes resulting in negative sentiments. Four of the five students interviewed recalled multiple instances in which they felt that they were unfairly reprimanded by a superior for a component of their job position that was never explained to them.

Ben Good ’10 recalls a particularly vexing incident during the end of his lunch shift—lunch closes at 1:30—working in the Grill Station. “It was about 1:28 or so and we had just ran out of one particular sandwich,” Good said. “The head chef came by and said, ‘what are you doing, there are no more sandwiches here,’ and kept pestering us until we cooked more—about 10 [of them]—and they take about seven minutes to cook, but no one else came and we had to throw them away.”

Such muddling has not gone unnoticed—Lyle Bauman, dining hall supervisor and campus celebrity, recognizes the need to better train employees. “We rely heavily on pre-trained student workers,” Bauman said, “and if we don’t get those to sign up in the beginning of the year, that’s where we probably fall a little bit short.”

Dining Services is currently in the process of implementing new programs to better prepare its employees. For example, Bauman explained that Serve Safe, a new online course about food safety, should make health code expectations clear to employees, who will be paid for its completion. There are also training videos available online—initiated and created by students this past summer—that employees are encouraged to watch before starting work.

Though no serious problems have occurred to date, Bauman sees the improvement of employee competence as a priority for the Dining Hall to ensure the safety and satisfaction of both employees and customers.

“It’s just that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. We want to always look ahead to prevention versus back toward what should we have done,” Bauman said. So next time you wind up eating—or serving—runny stir-fry, just drain off some of the sauce and know that things will improve.

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