Food for Thought by Chace Turner

In past years, working in a food service business has had its perks.  Most businesses would give employees a free or discounted meal after they worked or on their break.  But with the economy on a downward slope, businesses are now trying to cut budgets everywhere possible, including this little luxury.  Rules are being changed, but the new rules are too general and in most cases not saving any money at all.

I work at Alexander dining hall, one of the nine dining locations for Miami University in Oxford.  It is my second year as an employee there, and my first year being a Student Manager.  When I worked last year a policy was in place that if you worked for 4 or more hours, you would get to eat for free on your 15 minute break or when you got off work.  At that time I was still in high school and could only work the dinner shifts, which weren’t long enough to get that free meal.  I awaited the day when I would be working enough hours to get a free meal, and envied the Student Managers then who could eat whenever they worked.  This 4 hours of work to get a meal thing was not how it always was.

A few years before, the policy had switched from being able to eat no matter how long your shift was.  Friends at work told me how much of an uproar there was from student employees when that switch happened, so you can imagine the anger when this year’s new policy was announced.  Miami’s student newspaper published an article explaining the change.  “The free meal benefit was cut beginning Aug. 14 (2010) in an attempt to reduce the operating cost for food services along with several other changes started by Miami’s Leveraging Efficiencies and Aligning Needs (LEAN) Program” (Day 1).

Over the Summer I received an e-mail notifying me that due to budget cuts, student employees would no longer be able to eat for free at work, regardless of the length of their shift.  Now my peers and I  sometimes have days of class and work back-to-back for 12 hours straight, with no time to eat other than our breaks at work.  Sure, we could buy our lunch, but without a meal plan the price for a lunch is outrageous, and it doesn’t make much sense to pack your meal when you work in a dining hall and would have to carry food around with you all day.

Huge amounts of food are thrown away at the end of each meal, and we’re still not allowed to have any of it.  Some argue it is for sanitary reasons, that we can’t just make a plate of food and let it sit until our shift is over.  But that is exactly what employee’s are required to do when they pay for their meal.  They can make their plate before we clean up, then they must store it in a warming oven until everything is cleaned up.  I have yet to find any person who can give me a good explanation of why employees are going hungry, while having to watch as pounds of perfectly good food goes down the drain.

To see what other Miami employees thought about the topic, I interviewed one of my friends from work, a full time employee named Greg.  I asked him how much food he thought we threw away on a daily basis, and his response was surprising.  625 pounds of food waste for one day.  “It’s a lot of food.  I really don’t see how [the new policy] is saving any money.  It’s not fair at all.  If you work, you should be able to eat a meal just like the full timers” (Mattingly 1).

Miami isn’t the only place it’s happening.  Friends of mine who work in Oxford tell me about how they must throw away hot dogs at their job in concession stands while their stomachs rumble in angry hunger.  But the issue seems to have a bigger impact on university dining halls because of their large scale food production and quantity of employees.  For working students, changes like these can be troublesome for their work and study schedules, possibly even harmful to their health.  One of my fellow workers claims to have lost over 10 pounds since school started because he doesn’t have time to eat most days between class and work.

I looked to the currently posted student handbook on Miami’s website to see what I could find about the meal benefit.  “An employee who works eight consecutive hours is required to take an unpaid 30-minute meal break and two paid 15-minute breaks” (“Student Handbook”).  So we get a meal break without the meal I guess.  That doesn’t make much sense to me, especially when we wouldn’t be paid for this break, and more than likely are not eating during our break.

In an interview with Karen Recker, the associate director of the Dining and Culinary Support Center, she attempted to show the other great benefits employee’s get.  “Recker said student employees are still given a free fountain drink on their breaks, a benefit not offered by other departments” (Day 9).  Great, I love trying to drink a meal’s worth of nutrition in Mountain Dew everyday at work.

Instead of this policy, I think more constructive rules could be put into place that would still benefit the students, and wouldn’t use anymore money.  If students could get their meal ready right before the food is thrown out, they could store it in a warming oven until their shift is over or until they get their break.  That way, they only get food that would be otherwise thrown out, and they still get a free meal.  Greg proposed an idea that I also think would be a good idea.  Only students who work a certain number of hours a week and don’t miss any of their shifts would be allowed to eat.  This would encourage workers to sign up for more shifts and get them to show up consistently.

And what about other ways to save money?  “(The end of the free meal benefit) is just one thing and it’s going to take many, many, many things to continue to find ways of reducing our costs to deliver what we need to deliver,” said Pete Miller, associate vice president for auxiliaries for Housing, Dining and Guest Services, in a newspaper interview (Day 1).  How about we take an example from other schools who are getting rid of trays?  A study shows that food waste is reduced by 25% to 30% for each student when trays are not provided, and water is conserved when there aren’t trays needing to be washed (“Trayless Dining…”).  I think that actions like these should be taken before such a valuable benefit to the student workers is removed.

Another way to help the financial issue is to offer student employees a discounted meal price like the full time employees get.  Less than 2 dollars per day is deducted from the full timer’s paychecks in exchange for 2 meals during their breaks (Mattingly 1).  It would encourage students to take advantage of that benefit, and still bring in more revenue for the dining hall.  Some universities are even changing their meal items and prices to bring in more revenue from off campus students who need to get something to eat during the day, and making their dishes from scratch instead of using the more expensive pre-made food ingredients.

I think the new policy for student employee meals is completely bogus, especially when so many other things could be done first to conserve and safe money in university dining halls.  Student employees have come to rely on that benefit when they are working in a dining hall, and now some have no alternative for getting a meal during the day in-between classes and work.  I think all of the ideas in this paper should be considered instead of this benefit being taken away, when it only gives the illusion that money is being saved.

Works Cited

Day, Courtney.  Linehan, Mary Kate.  “Student employees in dining halls lose meal benefit.”  The Miami Student 24 August 2010.

Hermes, JJ.  “Soaring food prices squeeze dining halls.”  Chronicle of higher education May 2008.  EBSCOhost.  <>.

Mattingly, Greg.  Personal Interview. 26 Oct. 2010

“Student Handbook.”  Miami University 2010 <>.

“Trayless Dining Cuts Waste, Conserves Resources.” American School and University Feb. 2009. EBSCOhost.  <>.