Campus dining has been plagued with issues including incredibly long lines, the closing of restaurants, and an overall decline in food availability. It is something that we have all been dealing with for the past month and it has started to cause some talk among students and parents. But why is this happening?
When speaking to students, who are living both on and off-campus, there is little left to the imagination when voicing their disappointment with dining services.
“It’s nice that we have the GET app to order food ahead of time since so few places are open and lines are therefore long, but the GET app also doesn’t work consistently. I think I have successfully used it twice this semester, but after those two times the app hasn’t even booted up. It’s already hard for me to find food just because of my personal diet preferences, so not having the two places I’m actually able to get a meal at, Which Wich and Moe’s, open has been a bummer. You either get to campus extremely early to make it in time to wait in a long line for food, or come to campus at a reasonable time and end up being late for class so you can eat, or go to class with low blood sugar, basically,” Morgan Winstead, a senior commuter student, said.
“Although they say they’re trying to fix the situation, campus dining remains one of the big issues and annoyances on campus. It is taking way too long to get food, leaving many people hungry and feeling like they are wasting their money. Especially the freshmen who are forced to pay over $2000 for one of the two meal plans offered to them. People should not have to wait over an hour to get a simple bagel or salad. Do better,” Rayna Teague, a residential sophomore, said.
While some may think that these opinions are harsh on the staff working to get the dining situation in order, it is not unrealistic for students to be nervous about the situation and have strong opinions. The students want to know the reliability of the dining services that they pay so much money for.
To figure out some answers, we reached out to Jeffrey Marshall and Robert Waler who work with Western Carolina University and Aramark. Their knowledge of the situation is extensive as they are working their hardest to give students access to the services they pay for. Whether they are driving to South Carolina in the middle of the night to drive transfer trucks to campus or washing dishes due to short staffing, their hard work has not gone unnoticed. To start the discussion, Jeffrey Marshall gave a statement from Western Carolina University to answer the question of ‘what is going on?’
The unprecedented nature of the pandemic has created national supply chain issues and labor challenges that are unusual in their scale and reach across categories. The Western Carolina University Dining team is extremely focused on doing everything possible to proactively mitigate these issues so we can welcome students back to school successfully. We work closely with our suppliers, focusing on constant communication, nimble decision-making, and flexible menus to meet demand. Additionally, as the national labor shortages continue, our Dining team is relying on modifications to location availability and hours to ensure that students are able to have the best service and dining experience possible. Our recruiting teams are also utilizing new technology and scheduling virtual and local job fairs to reach job seekers to address these issues. Students interested in joining the team can apply at Aramark.com/careers and search ‘Western Carolina’.
It seems that in most cases, the lack of employment has been adding strain to the inner workings of the cafeteria causing some of the issues that we see.
“These are unprecedented times… When the pandemic hit, everything closed down which changed our style of service. When we came back everything was disposable and you couldn’t sit inside, but we still had employees at that time. This fall, for some reason- I think maybe fatigue or the changing job market, we have found it extremely difficult to recruit employees. We are at about 25% right now, maybe a little more or less,” Jeffrey Marshall, Aramark Resident District Manager, said.
Marshall emphasized that when speaking to other branches of Aramark on different campuses, while we are about 250 people short on staff this year, some are 350 or 600 plus. This is not an isolated situation that Western Carolina University is going through.
In response to long lines, Marshall pointed out that Western has always had long lines even before these unprecedented issues arose. With thousands of students flocking to the cafeterias during class changes, lines form and there is nothing that anyone can do about that because it is the order of things. Yes, the lines are much longer because more restaurants are closed and we cannot disperse, but with the opening of more restaurants as more people are hired, the longer lines will diminish. As more people are hired to fill these positions, more locations such as Brown and Which Wich will be able to open and this will help with this situation.
As many have noticed, there have been a few issues with the GET app. For some, it won’t open and for others, it won’t allow an order to be processed.
“We have done a few modifications with the GET app… when we have these issues getting supplies for some places like Starbucks, we restrict access through GET to help manage supplies. The other times that it might not work for people is when the queuing system recognizes that the restaurant system is already super busy and it won’t allow for multiple orders,” Robert Walker, Director of Campus Services Auxiliary Administration, said.
“There is one other possibility that I learned of, the GET app updates its operating program occasionally. When it updates and you haven’t updated it on your phone, it will not work 100%. I would say if it isn’t working, the first thing I would try to do is update the program,” Marshall said.
Marshall and Walker stressed that campus dining is working hard to return operations to normal.
“Everybody is working as hard as they can to make sure we are taking care of everybody. Just have patience with us because, after Fall break, things should be better,” Marshall said.
“You have our promise, we’re going to do as good as we can to make the process quick and easy,” Walker said.
To apply for a job within campus dining, apply at Aramark.com/careers and search ‘Western Carolina’ or apply at jobcat.wcu.edu.