New Cafeteria Venues Bring ‘Variety,’ but Also Longer Waits as Staff Adjust to Retail Dining
Long waits and pricing errors in the Campus Center cafeteria are a result of staffing changes with the west addition opening, University Auxiliary Services officials say.
Last week, some waits consumed parts of the cafeteria. Waits at the Fountain Grill have been upwards of 30 minutes; waits at Starbucks have been as long as 40 minutes.
Another issue: about 230 transactions between Aug. 24 and Wednesday were not deducted from “discount dollars,” a new meal plan option which cuts out overhead costs per purchase at Campus Center vendors. Students affected have since been reimbursed.
“We didn’t do all this to have slow, crappy service,” said Steve Pearse, executive director of UAS. “The service needs to be at the same par as the venues we’ve created.”
Pearse said he’s been told staffers in the west addition are more “student-centered” than before, albeit waits remain an issue at hand for UAS. He continued: staffers who do not adjust to the retail dining venue soon will be moved.
Management has made an effort to reduce waits, he said. Minutes after a cash register breakdown at Tres Habanero, management allowed students to pass through the line for free. At the time, nearly ten students were waiting in line.
“They’re really trying to make sure it’s a good experience,” said Pearse.
Cafeteria dining has had mixed reception since the beginning of the semester.
Kassie Hautau, a political science sophomore student, started dining in the west addition before classes began. She enjoys the amount of vendors more than last year, but is sometimes deterred from the cafeteria congestion.
“Last year was like five minutes,” said Hautau. “And that’s fine. That’s expected. But sometimes I avoid getting food here if it takes longer because I don’t have time.”
Aseem Kumar, a junior social welfare student, enjoys the greater variety of dining options in the new space and additional seating. But he believes crowd sizes have altered the atmosphere of the area.
Early Tuesday evening, he moved through traffic congestion to stop by SEFCU. “I was just trying to get through and I was like ‘This is too many people,’” he said. “But I’ll take it, I’ll accept it for better options.”
Michael Ramella, UAS associate director of operations, believes congestion will drop off as the semester continues. Greater course loads over time, he said, will detract some students from the cafeteria.
Beyond congestion, professor Joanna Workman encountered a staff error. Workman received the wrong-sized salad bowl. She was later credited by UAS.
Michelle Bowen, UAS senior director of Marketing & Communications, said that the mistake was likely linked to staff inexperience.
Sodexo trainers, some of which have been sent in from across the nation, are working with employees to reduce service issues in the west addition, UAS reported.
Preparing for the opening of the cafeteria extension over the summer, a number of dining staff were hired or shifted roles. Some staffers from the now-closed Dutch Quad were shuffled around campus.
Now, out of nearly 500 staffers at UAlbany, 180 of them (excluding workers at Niko’s and the Halal Shack) work in Campus Center. It’s the highest staffed food service hub on campus; Indian Quad is second with about 100 employees.
UAS officials expect time, training, and the opening of two venues to reduce congestion in the west addition. Cusato’s, a pizzeria formerly in the east addition, is expected to open later this month; Tully’s Good Times, a Western New York sports pub, will open in October.