Culinary services dining rooms struggled to retain staff last year, higher hopes for years to come

Throughout the 2021-2022 academic year, Ohio University dining halls struggled to retain and hire new employees despite mass hiring events and Culinary Services-sponsored initiatives.

At the start of the spring semester, student employees received wage increases and were paid at least $10 per hour depending on their position. Before the increase, students were making $8.80 or $9.30 an hour, said Autumn Ryder, assistant director of culinary services.

“We try as much as possible to raise where we can, where the university allows us financially,” Ryder said. “It helped a bit, but again, still not to the level we want.”

Skylar Sands, a senior management information systems student, has worked at Nelson Court since 2019. Sands said he thought the raises were necessary but unfair to current staff.

“There’s no room for more pay other than the duration of being there,” Sands said. “Suppose you have just been hired; you can start at level two at $11. I have been there for two and a half years as an office assistant; now I make $11 and have a lot more (to do) than just wash the dishes. »

Although the dining halls on campus were open throughout the school year, staffing never reached the level it had before the COVID-19 pandemic, said Frank Pazzanese, executive director of culinary services.

“We need 1,500 to 1,700 students,” Ryder said. “(Autumn semester) we were only up to 800 and now we’re just over 1000. We’re definitely better than what we were, so that’s progress; not as much as we would like, but it is still progress.

To encourage OU employees to recruit new members, Culinary Services launched the Culinary Services Referral Bonus Program, which ran from January 2 through May 1. OU employees were rewarded $1,000 if the person they referred was hired and remained on staff for at least 60 days. .

As of April 6, 21 employees had submitted referral forms and five new employees were hired from the referrals, Ryder said.

Student employees also had the opportunity to earn money through their referrals. For each student recruited by a current employee to join Culinary Services, given that the new employee was hired and continued to work for two weeks, the recruiter’s name was entered into a draw for $50 in Bobcat Cash, a said Ryder.

The incentives offered have led to the hiring of many students and career employees; however, many employees did not stay long-term due to outside factors, Pazzanese said.

“It’s tough because we can hire two people and lose one, and that’s how the economy is; other companies are paying very aggressively right now,” Pazzanese said. “The hospitality industry is the latest to come back because we were the first to let people go, so we blasé our own people.”

Sands said the culinary services team’s morale appeared to be at its lowest since the COVID-19 pandemic, but it’s hard to pinpoint an exact reason. The stress of working during lunchroom “peak hours” with fewer employees than necessary can be the cause of a less pleasant work experience, Sands said.

With an expected increase in student enrollment for the fall semester, Pazzanese said student employment needed to reach 1,700 to meet higher demand.

Higher demand for culinary services may necessitate the reopening of Shively Court after it closed two years ago and served as a COVID-19 testing center for almost a year.

Once OU’s student population grows enough to support a third dining hall and there are enough students to fill the positions needed to run the dining hall, Shively Court will reopen, Pazzanese said. .

There is no set reopening date for Shively Court, but Pazzanese said he would like it to be up and running by spring 2025.

Although current students will have to wait to experience Shively Court, Ryder said some aspects of the dining hall will be available at Nelson Court this fall.

“I’m thrilled to announce that we’re bringing back the hand-dipped ice cream that was in Shively, and a lot of the homemade food we had there will be served in Nelson,” Ryder said. . “We had made fresh tortillas there at Shively Grab-and-Go…we’ll start using it again (and) bring back some Shively where we can.”

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Richard F. Gandhi