Imagine inviting a few friends over for dinner. Soon, that “few” turns into hundreds.
Welcome to the world of Temple Dining Services employees, who serve an ever-expanding group of students and staff.
Dedicated cashiers, chefs, dishwashers,
and managers keep thousands of bellies full at the university’s multiple eateries, especially at the two busiest on campus: Louis J. Esposito Dining Court in Johnson and Hardwick Halls and the Valaida S. Walker Food Court in the Student Center.
“It certainly is busier [at Temple],” said Cassandra Knight who works at the “Sizzlin’ Salad” station and also serves the students at Messiah College.
“I love my job,” said Tonya Foster who works the vegetarian and vegan station at Johnson and Hardwick. Working at the same station for 12 years, Foster has developed a motherly relationship with the students who frequent her station.
“We’re your home away from home,” she said. “We’re here to please.”
While some staff members enjoy the satisfaction of serving Temple’s masses, others have a mini-following around campus such as cashier Bernard James. James, who is well known for excitedly greeting everyone waiting in the entrance line, said Temple students have honored him with Facebook.com groups and T-shirts.
“I go downtown and people recognize
me, beep at me,” James said.
He even had a few students attempt
to buy his monogrammed uniform from him. “But they can’t afford me,” he said.
Behind the frontlines of daily servings is director of administration for Sodexho Peter Beers, who is the man responsible for assuring that every student who walks through the doors to the Louis
J. Esposito Dining Court gets their money’s worth.
“The buck stops here,” Beers said.
Beers is also in charge of hiring employees.
According to him, employees at the dining halls make “at least double minimum wage,” which is $5.15 in Pennsylvania.
Beers noted the worker’s union prevents him from disclosing the actual amount, and that every position is paid differently.
Because the dining hall pays a disproportionately higher wage than many of the businesses surrounding Temple, Beers sees a large number of applicants.
“You have to be very selective or you will have high turnover,” he said.
Before hiring employees, Sodexho, the company that manages the dining hall, requires them to first work in a reserve capacity, filling in on sick days and scheduling gaps. If an employee proves to do a satisfactory job, they may be offered a full-time position.
Mindy Segal, manager of the Valaida S. Walker Food Court at the Student Center, said that customer service is the top concern when hiring. Some employees can look great on paper but fail the interview.
She said she likes to pitch hypothetical situations to every candidate and can usually gauge their priorities from there.
Sodexho offers its employees various incentives to keep them happy and motivated such as its “Be Proud” initiative.
The program allows any employee to request
information about anything they need in their daily lives – such as how to mortgage their house or how to use Microsoft Office.
Sodexho then tries to bring in outside experts for free employee workshops.
“We believe that if they are happy outside
of work, they will be happy in work too,” Segal said.
Both Segal and Beers said they believe that student feedback is paramount to the future
of both dining halls. Segal said that if she could tell students one thing, it would be to interact with the management more often.
“We are usually the older looking people,”
Segal said she conducts student surveys twice a year and often stops when she overhears students talking about their dining experience.
Beers said that student feedback, such as the kind received on the famous comment bulletin board, helped spur changes such as the increased focus on healthier foods, as well as vegetarian alternatives.
Segal, along with many other Temple Dining Services employees, seems to enjoy serving the community.
“Food is my life,” she said.
“I love making people happy through food. A good meal can make any day better.”
Sean Blanda can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.