Cross-department shortages create domino effect in the Diner

By Nikki Hindmam  

From early morning breakfast to late night snacks, the Diner is open for our students to feast at. Although we are slowly starting to see a return to normalcy from COVID-19, the Diner still struggles with a pandemic-related staff shortage. Unlike other locations on campus such as Diversions or Oppenheimer Café, the Diner hires full-time non-student workers. I sat down with Rutie MacKenzie-Margulies, a full-time staff worker at the Diner, to ask about her experiences. When she was a student, she worked in the Cellar until she graduated and started to work full-time in the Diner in February 2021.

  The first thing MacKenzie-Margulies mentioned about working for the University was the long hiring process. As she explained, she had to fill out a forty-five minute application, pass a background check, take a drug-test and pass a physical exam before being hired. With a short-staffed HR department, these steps could take up to a month. However, her job comes with benefits such as health care and a retirement plan. In other food service industries, one might only have to apply and interview for the job and then start working in a few days’ time but without those benefits.

  The Diner also recruits by offering walk-in interviews. Many people have been hired through this process, but others would attend an interview but not fill out the application. Because of the staff shortages in HR, the people hired this summer have still not started working. Without enough full-time staff, stations have more limited hours. When new employees are hired, it can be “a giant puzzle,” said Chelsea Bairey, Director of Dining and Cafés, regarding the processes of opening up new stations and working around schedules.

  I asked if the school’s budget played a role in staff shortages. Bairey responded that the money to hire people, but that these problems stem from “The Great Resignation” over the pandemic. She and MacKenzie-Margulies both expressed that while going through the hiring process might be an inconvenience, at the end of the day, “We are employing people to come work in your home.” And though there is money to hire more staff, concerns about low wages for staff in the diner likely make hiring more difficult.

  Chelsea explained that student workers primarily help during normal rush hours and when there are lots of people visiting at once. Other students have worked at the Diner for a long time and have developed a great understanding of how the Diner works. Some help out when full-time staff members call out sick as they have the training and experience to close down a station.

  While being short-staffed is a challenge, Bairey wants the students to know that “we have a great team.” The patience and kindness that students show toward workers go a long way in making the Diner a terrific place to work.