On Oct. 16, the new Dining Center officially opened and began serving members of the Swarthmore community. The dining hall has many new features, including a trayless dish drop-off, ice water taps, and a central pizza oven. The new building also brings a complete change in the layout, and additional food stations, such as Spice of Life and the Free Zone. These improvements initiated many changes for the dining staff who used to work in Sharples and have since transitioned to working in the Dining Center.
Nearly one month after its grand opening, Swarthmore dining staff are still adjusting to the new environment in the Dining Center. While they enjoy some of the benefits that come along with having a bigger, more open space, they have also noted some troubles caused by the move from the old building and a lack of staff. The Phoenix spoke with four members of the dining hall staff: Michael Lobis, Mutabar Mills, Jamie Layton, and Rosemarie Ritter, as they reflected on their experience adjusting to the new dining hall.
Lobis, who works at the grill station, identified some issues with the initial move-in.
“There was a lot of confusion on where to initially put everything. So I was filling up my freezers and all the fryers here pretty much the day before we opened,” he said.
In addition to confusion surrounding the transfer of food and equipment into the new facilities, Ritter, who scans individuals into the dining hall, spoke about her struggles to find everything she needs quickly.
“Everything is so spread out. Just finding what we need on a daily basis [is a big challenge],” she said.
Ritter agreed with Lobis’s assessment that the moving process was sometimes difficult, but she is also proud of the work the dining staff has done so far.
“I wouldn’t say [it went] smoothly. [There were] lots of glitches, but considering the size and scope of the project, we’ve done well,” she added.
The big change was not easy for Layton, who worked in Sharples for 30 years. Yet, Layton articulated many of the benefits of the new building, including the increased space and openness.
“I miss the old building … For 30 years I worked over there. [It was] very nice and warm … It’s nice here because we can see people who are ordering as we work, and I like the bigger [kitchen],” she said. “It’s beautiful. Everything is gorgeous. I know I can say I’m very happy to work here.”
Lobis agreed that the facilities are a step up from Sharples. He is especially happy about the new equipment in the dining hall, the increased space, and the layout of the new building.
“The best change is the equipment. I have everything I need right in this corner of the building. My freezer, my walk-in, all of the stoves, and everything is here. Whereas, in the old Sharples, I had to go back to the kitchen to cook a portion of my food and to restock my section,” he said. “It was a lot smaller. I didn’t have as big of a freezer or as many refrigerators. It’s quite nice to have all of those [be] state-of-the-art.”
Yet, Lobis also noted that there are still some improvements to be made. He suggested that a dishwasher upstairs would further enhance the quality of life for students and staff.
“A dishwasher [upstairs] would make it a lot easier for you guys [students]. Right now you’re taking all your trash downstairs. With the limited staffing, we have cut off any dish drop. There is a room for it, but we aren’t allowing you guys [to drop upstairs] because it’s too much to keep up with trying to run it downstairs and [keep] a cycle going.”
Mills believes the new facilities allow for the dining staff to provide better meals for students than they could back at Sharples. She pointed specifically to the dining center’s better appliances and how the open layout allows the staff to work better and interact more with students.
“Everything works in here. All the appliances work. That always matters because we couldn’t keep the food we were making hot enough for students [in Sharples],” she said. “[Now, we can] see all the students, how they’re eating, how much food is left over.’”
Lobis noted that there has been an increase in the amount of food being served as well, suggesting that students are more comfortable dining at the new facility.
“There’s been an increase in the amount of food that everyone takes. I feel like people are a little bit less shy to take the food that they want. At the Old Sharples, they had to approach me [at the grill] and speak to me a little bit, [but] now it’s a little bit more of a buffet style,” he said.
While the facilities and appliances have improved, dining staff still face a systemic problem of Sharples: a staffing shortage.
Mills explained that for the full-time crew, being short-staffed detracts from the quality of the work they can perform. The shortage impacts dining staff most during lunch and dinner time because there are more food stations but not enough people to work at the stations.
To solve the problem, Swarthmore’s Dining Services have turned to an app called Qwick, which Lobis described as the Uber of temp work. Using Qwick, Swarthmore can hire temp workers on short notice to fill roles. Mills explained that, because of Qwick, she has been working with new people every day.
Lobis noted that Swarthmore can add full and part-time staff from those gaining experience through the temp service; however, many Qwick workers enjoy the flexibility that comes with temp work.
“Some of [the temps] transition into part-time or full-time if they like working here. And other ones, they just like that there’s a system where they can come and go as they please,” he said.
While temporary workers are great in the short term and can ease the pressure on full-time staff, there are drawbacks to not having a set staff that works together every day and knows each other. Layton and Mills both pointed out these problems, noting that because they work full-time, they are more familiar with all the different jobs that staff complete on a daily basis. Those coming in because of Qwick do not have the same experience as full time staff, and it might be more difficult for them to help out in areas unfamiliar from where they traditionally work.
“We played as a team [in Sharples]. But, the help we are getting at lunch and dinner time only do specifically one thing,” Mills said.
Lobis explained that the dining staff has high expectations for the quality of their services, and as the staffing situation is sorted out, the quality of service will be improved.
“The temps are great for temporariness,” Lobis commented. “Once we get [more] permanent staff that actually care about the building, and want to keep up with it and [treat it as] more than just a job. Swarthmore is a good place to work. They got good benefits and all that jazz. So, really [we] would benefit from more people who are here and care.”