Eero Barker quickly picks up his pace as he exits the architecture building, shivering as he is struck by the cold night air. An architecture junior, Barker has spent his entire Monday in the studio working on his most recent project.
With the sun long past gone and his stomach grumbling for the long awaited meal, Barker starts to smile with excitement as he arrives at the doors of Vista Grande.
As he reaches for the door and pulls, his smile quickly fades. Locked again! Closed for the night and at only 8 p.m.
“I hate when they close early, like that’s kinda my only option when I get out and want some food,” Barker said. “It happens at least a few times a week, it’s pretty frustrating”.
These inconsistencies in Vista Grande’s hours are a result of campus dining being understaffed. The large majority of campus dining employee’s have always been students; now, due to COVID-19, staff numbers have dropped significantly.
According to Jess Dozier, Cal Poly’s Campus Dining director, before the pandemic Campus Dining had anywhere between 600 and 800 student employees at any given time. Now, it is nearly half that with only 350 current student employees.
“The biggest effect of the staffing shortage has been the hours of operation and being able to open the satellite operations across campus,” Dozier said.
Cal Poly Corporation Communications Specialist Aaron Lambert told Mustang News that the Vista Grande dining complex was intended to be opened until 10 p.m. but has been closing an hour earlier due to staff shortages. He added that the 8 p.m. closure occurred once due to prep for midnight breakfast, opening again at 9 p.m.
With Building 19 — which houses The Avenue — under construction, Vista Grande is currently the main source of on-campus food for students, producing nearly 20,000 meals a day. With other options being so limited, and Vista Grande running on shortened hours, students don’t have many options to turn to.
For freshmen, these limited hours and options are especially difficult. Getting off campus in the first place is a challenge and then there’s the issue of spending money rather than using their meal plans.
“It’s hard to justify going to eat off campus, much less doing it,” anthropology and geography freshman Sam Duncan-Doroff said. “It feels a little foolish buying food off campus when I have dining dollars that I need to spend.”
However, Campus Dining officials say there just aren’t enough hands to do the work, leaving students with later classes to fend for themselves.
With not enough workers to operate at a level that meets demand, the school and its students are left at an impasse in which students are suffering.
“Our employees are amazingly hard working and dedicated to the task at hand, however, they too have lives and we can’t ask any more than they are already giving,” Dozier said.
Marissa Zasueta, a student employee who works in Vista Grande, works only eight hours a week, but still it’s too much alongside her classes.
“It’s a bit of a struggle, as the quarter goes on the workload increases and I’m just running out of time,” Zasueta said.
Zasueta had to actually decrease her weekly hours from ten to the current eight because she was starting to fall behind in her classes.
Now, Zasueta says she is going to be leaving her job at Vista Grande altogether, in order to focus on school and pursue an internship in her field of study, animal science.
With so few staff on hand and more leaving every day, either for reasons like Zasueta or because of COVID-19, Campus Dining is working hard to hire more employees.
The Cal Poly Corporation, which runs Campus Dining, has been making numerous efforts to bring in more potential hires, both student and otherwise.
In recent months, Campus Dining has hosted and participated in job fairs, as well as advertised positions throughout the state. Still, challenges arise at every turn.
“We face the same challenges as other restaurant companies have, just not enough applicants to fill vacant positions,” Dozier said. “The response has been successful though, albeit a little slower than we’d like.”
Slowly, campus dining is managing to increase their staff numbers. They are still 25% below their pre-pandemic levels of non-student employees, according to Dozier, but it’s enough that five new venues will be opening Winter Quarter 2022.
“We really just want to get back to the fun that campus dining can be,” Dozier said.
Editor’s Note: This story was updated on March 28 to include information from Cal Poly Corporation Communication Specialist Aaron Lambert about Vista Grande’s hours of operation.