Campus dining competes with off-campus jobs for student workers


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Jacob DeWeerd, Staff Writer

Grand Valley State University students have dealt with campus dining issues like location closures, long lines and limited menus since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, most of which can be attributed to the ongoing student employee shortage.

A year and a half later, despite campus dining’s efforts to attract workers, there are still not enough employees to staff many on-campus dining locations. If campus dining cannot attract more employees, these issues seem likely to stay.

GVSU sent out an email on Sept. 8 that said campus dining had only employed around 30% of the usual number of student workers and 70% of full-time staff. Since then, incentives like wage increases during certain shifts and bonuses for working through the end of the semester have been offered to entice students to work for campus dining.

Some students feel that those incentives are not enough.

In response to a question about this matter on r/GVSU, a Reddit forum for GVSU-related posts, students aired their frustrations with the limited incentives being offered by campus dining.

“As a campus dining employee, I feel I should state that the bonus system isn’t even as lucrative as you state,” said user u/lesbianclarinetnerd. “You have to work a minimum of eight hours a week, not an average, a minimum (so if you get sick and miss a shift you’re out of the running for the bonus). I’m personally only scheduled 6.5 hours each week and I am not allowed to stay longer to get to that point, (so I’d have to pick up another shift to receive the bonus). The scheduling is absolutely awful.”

Regarding wage increases, the current wage for campus dining employees is listed at $9.87 per hour on Handshake. Currently, campus dining employees earn an extra $2 per hour if they work after 3 p.m. or on weekends, but that wage still pales in comparison to other food service jobs in the area.

Grand Rapids Brewing Company is offering $1000 sign-on bonuses and kitchen staff wages starting at $17 per hour, and Grand Coney in Allendale is hiring part-time line cooks for wages from $14 to $17 per hour. 

User u/JaySeebricks said campus dining wages are not at all competitive. 

“Off-campus jobs (within bus distance) offer far superior wages and seemingly better conditions,” u/JaySeebricks said. “I feel really bad for campus dining employees sometimes.”

Campus dining also has to compete with job opportunities at other on-campus locations that pay just as well or better than they do, and also offer the opportunity to complete homework or work at their own pace. Student positions like office assistants, tour guides and major-specific positions like clinical assistants and tutors offer similar or better pay and work environments compared to campus dining positions.

“I worked for campus dining before the pandemic and I wouldn’t go back even with the incentives they’re offering,” said u/teach_sped. “The library is offering equal pay to what (campus dining) has listed on Handshake and I get to do my homework there and not work in a hectic environment with a lot of COVID policies.”

Still, student workers are necessary to keep campus dining operations open for all students on campus.

“Obviously the campus dining workers (especially the student workers) are doing all they can and I’m grateful for their hard work so I can get lunch and dinner in between my busy schedule times,” u/teach_sped said.

Students with allergies, vegan or vegetarian diets and other dietary restrictions or preferences are faced with a diminished number of options for where they can safely eat on campus. Multiple dining locations that offered vegan or allergy-safe options like Which Wich have been closed all year, which leaves students with far less variety for what they can use meal swipes on. 

“My (significant other) had extremely limited options last year with her allergy and half the time would experience mild-to-moderate reactions due to cross-contamination,” u/JaySeebricks said.

Another student echoed concerns about cross-contamination for those with specific diets, saying they had experienced difficulties with allergies at campus dining locations as well.

“Cross-contamination happens at every location, as well as already very limited allergy-friendly options,” said user u/dvd-player. “Your best bet is the peanut butter and jelly sandwiches at Fresh or just spending your dining dollars at the pod stores to buy food you know you can eat.”

One student complained about a lack of proper training due to staff shortages. Failure to properly train food service employees can lead to issues like cross-contamination and the potential for allergic reactions.

“The training is near non-existent,” u/lesbianclarinetnerd said.

As COVID-19 continues to affect labor availability, there’s currently no concrete expectation for when dining at GVSU could see a return to normalcy. 

“That’s difficult to predict given that this is a state, regional and national situation,” said campus dining marketing manager Deb Rambadt. “As people apply and are hired/trained, additional openings could occur. On Nov. 8, 42nd Street Deli inside Kleiner reopened and with a continued applicant pace, more stations will follow.”

For students looking to share their thoughts with Campus Dining, offers surveys that share feedback with managers of on-campus dining locations. Responses can be provided anonymously, or users can provide contact info for follow-ups and sweepstakes entries. QR codes are posted in dining locations all over campus for easy access, and there is a link at