While COVID-19 is no longer a global health emergency, Haverford is still feeling the ripples of the pandemic within its community. These effects go beyond the direct consequences of the virus, affecting economic and cultural attitudes on campus. One campus space in which these shifts are particularly apparent is the Dining Center.
Anyone who has spent time on campus has noticed the signs of a dining staff shortage, whether it be the one perpetually closed swipe-in counter at the Dining Center or the shortened hours at the Library Cafe. Thomas Mitchell, the General Manager of Dining Services, explained that the staffing struggles that Haverford has been facing are in part because many Dining Center staff members are part-time workers.
“What happened with Covid was we lost a large part of the people that had second jobs,” Mitchell explained. “We have four great guys that are part-timers…we had a bunch of them, they’re no more.”
Mitchell believes the staffing shortage is due to the fact that jobs in the “gig economy”—such as food delivery and rideshare driving—have increased in popularity since the pandemic, with the number of individuals working in the gig economy increasing by 3.1 million between 2020 and 2021.
“People realized…why do I go work at a restaurant two or three nights cooking for extra money when I can just drive Uber for a couple hours during the week?…It’s more flexible, I listen to my music, I make the same money, I don’t have to mop floors and clean dishes till midnight.”
Mitchell also expressed concerns over the tough situation in which this puts Haverford.
“Four people called out in the morning,” he said, describing a recent Sunday shift. “We only had seven people scheduled, so then you have to cook breakfast with three people.”
Mitchell clarified that a typical morning shift consists of 3-4 prep cooks and two cooks. With fewer employees, there are less people to help run catering for special events such as Alumni Weekend and Graduation, and the Library Cafe is subject to unexpected closures if a staff member calls out sick. For special events, Haverford has opted to outsource labor. However, as catering companies encounter similar staff issues since the pandemic, these partnerships are unreliable solutions for the long-term.
While student employment at the Dining Center can help fill some of the gaps left by staffing shortages, it presents its own unique set of challenges. For students who do work in the Dining Center, Mitchell understands that their responsibilities as students come first, and they cannot be relied upon to make every shift or fill in for other workers.
Despite Mitchell’s attempts to prioritize academics, student workers report feeling the strains of the staffing shortages.
“I would say I’m one of the workers who takes on a lot of hours,” said Zaida Boissiere ‘24. “When I have a busy week, like studying or something, I’ll receive an email like ‘please, can you come in a couple times? We really need hands!’… So I definitely feel it.”
Another student worker, Cristian Latorre ‘27 echoes this stress, saying “It’s definitely kind of a struggle some days when there aren’t enough student workers, just because it means that everybody’s job is like a little bit more complicated, a little bit more stressful….Typically the days that I’m working, there are enough people, and then when there aren’t enough people, you really feel it.”
Additionally, the Dining Center faces economic competition for student workers because even though they offer the highest hourly pay on campus at $11.50 per hour—as opposed to the minimum wage of $10.50 per hour—businesses in Ardmore pay upwards of $4 per hour more.
“I would go to Wawa,” Mitchell admitted, sympathizing with the low wages students are offered on campus.
Boissiere and Latorre both agreed that their hourly wage of $11.50 is not adequate compensation for the work they do.
“I definitely think they need to raise everyone’s pay on campus,” Boissiere said. While Boissiere says that her current job of managing the meal-swipe counter “isn’t too bad,” she added that serving food “gets exhausting after a while.”
Despite the challenges, students still find benefit in working for the Dining Center.
“If you’re looking for an on-campus job, it is a good on-campus job,” Latorre said. “All of the student workers and also all of the staff are really fantastic.”
Boissiere echoed Latorre, adding that the flexibility of the job is an added benefit. “You can choose your shifts based on…how busy your schedule is this week…and you work as much as you choose.”
Whether by staff or student workers, the post-pandemic staffing shortages are felt across the industry of higher education food service. According to Mitchell, this issue is not unique to Haverford. “It’s everywhere, every university, everybody is short on staff.” However, he also noted that it has begun to improve as we move further away from the most devastating years of the pandemic, and the economy declines. As prices for food and other items increase, people are forced to find additional employment to make ends meet.
Regardless of the numerous challenges facing Haverford Dining Services in the wake of the pandemic, Mitchell emphasized that above all else, the goal of himself and his staff is to serve the Haverford community as best they can. “The students come first.”