By Patrick McGerr
BLOOMINGTON – Indiana University students are upset with a campus dining system plagued by long wait times, closed locations, and staffing shortages. As IU struggles to properly staff and supply its Bloomington campus dining locations, some students wonder whether university leadership properly considered the logistical implications of admitting a record-breaking freshman class this fall semester.
Since classes began in August, students have reported dealing with wait times regularly reaching an hour at some locations, and sometimes stretching beyond two hours. Others listed limited food options, and even issues regarding food hygiene and preparation.
“It’s been a disaster,” IU freshman Jake Ruben said.
“It was pretty excessive to get three chicken tenders and fries for an hour and 50 minute wait,” Dayton Gaskey said.
Kelli Rivers said the wait times at campus dining locations are often worse than she expected, forcing her to sacrifice meals to make it to class on time.
“Sometimes, I don’t have time to eat so I skip meals or eat at odd times,” she said.
Grey Waggoner echoed those concerns about the difficulty of fitting meals into a busy class schedule.
“Some people are eating, but it feels like survival of the fittest or survival of the person with the least to do — the most availability in their schedule,” Waggoner said.
Mary Davids, an IU Student Government member, said she has fielded many complaints about IU Dining this year. Davids believes the university’s switch to buffet-style dining contributed to the issues hungry students currently face.
“We have two of the biggest dining (facilities) on campus, McNutt and Forest, that have been turned to buffets this year and the big problem with that is that they were turned to buffets without surveys, without asking for consent or for opinions from the student body,” Davids said.
“It was just a decision that was made without our consent. So the biggest problem with that is that people don’t have time to go sit down to eat buffet style between classes,” she said. “I don’t have time, everybody can agree nobody has time, and so the rest of the burden falls on Wright and the IMU, so the two places that allow GrubHub, the burden falls on them and so this increases the amount of people who are ordering here and it also increases the wait time.”
IU Dining gets meals to students in multiple ways. There is a la carte ordering where students go in person and order from a menu. There are the so-called “All-You-Care-To-Eat” venues where students swipe their card, walk around to select their desired items from any of the places within the space and may eat as much as they want. According to IU leadership, all-you-care-to-eat locations have not faced the same issues with longer waits. Students mostly agree wait times are better at those locations, though food selection and quality were sometimes lacking.
IU uses GrubHub as a point of sale application for several campus dining locations, including Wright, Bookmarket and Goodbody Eateries, as well as campus cafés and stores. Students use the application to order food at certain locations, before going to pick it up themselves.
Ruben spoke to high demand for GrubHub-style ordering as opposed to all-you-can-eat dining.
“GrubHub dining halls have less staff members than regular ones. They have more (customers) in GrubHub with less staff members. The model for it makes no sense whatsoever.”
The result is wait times that can stretch to an hour and beyond. According to IU Residential Programs and Services Executive Director Luke Leftwich, long delays are unavoidable when many students access particular dining locations or services at the same time.
“If everybody on campus hops onto the same particular venue at the exact same time, it creates exorbitant wait times.”
When asked, IU students and leadership both identified staffing shortages as a main cause of problems. IU student Kelsey Pease thought more workers might alleviate the longer wait times she has experienced at Wright Eatery, which last up to an hour and a half.
“I feel like they should hire more employees. The big problem is they’re so understaffed.”
IU Dining was forced to close some facilities because of staffing shortages. IU Residential Programs and Services leaders say they were caught off-guard by the lack of an available student workforce.
“You would assume that, with a record freshman class, perhaps the amount of students that wanted to work would be commensurate with the size of that class when compared to, say, 2019 or before,” said Leftwich. “That’s not the case. Interest in student jobs is down across all of the spaces, whether it’s rec sports, whether it’s dining, whether it’s in the housing areas.
According to Leftwich, IU Dining’s staffing shortages were compounded by the impact of global supply chain shortages, which made it harder to adapt on the fly. “The majority of the challenges have really been around labor shortages and adjusting to global supply chain shortages. … That’s a really big challenge in any environment, yet when you’re already short-staffed it’s even further exacerbated.”
Leftwich said more student workers are on the way.
“There is no stone going unturned in terms of trying to find folks and get folks in the right spaces. As the semester started, we opened up applications for dining. We had more than 600 students apply for those jobs, we have (made job offers to) more than 500 of those students who are still interested in positions. They are being filtered through the system and heading into those positions even as we speak.”
The addition of more workers, however, was slowed by delays with processing background checks, which depend on a third-party company. Leftwich said the university is just waiting on documents to be approved for the workers to start.
Additionally, some students have suggested the starting pay of $10.40 per hour is not competitive and has hampered IU’s efforts. “So we’re very short on staff this year and it makes sense because the pay for staff is terrible,” Davids said.
An IUSG initiative in the coming session will attempt to raise the minimum wage for such IU positions to $15 an hour, according to Davids.
This article is made available through Hoosier State Press Association.