Several Food Services locations around campus, including ML’s Diner in Modern Languages (ML), H3 in Hagey Hall, FRSH in the Health Expansion building, Eye Opener Cafe in Optometry and the Tim Hortons in East Campus 5 as well as ML, have remained closed despite a full-scale return to campus in most capacities.
In an email correspondence regarding the closures, UW Food Services described the staffing shortages suffered due to the pandemic as the cause of the prolonged closures, having lost 700 out of 800 total staff.
“Reopening our eateries means hiring high numbers of new staff, providing training for new hires, and getting them comfortable in their roles before they serve our student body and staff at the university,” Food Services stated. “Once we have filled vacant positions and trained our new staff members, we will have all of our eateries open and available. We are welcoming those interested in working for Food Services to apply by visiting this link: uwaterloo.ca/food-services/work-for-us.”
The Tim Horton’s in ML recently opened on Nov. 1. Food Services worker Rosana Frowd stated that she would be the only full-timer at the location, working alongside two part-time employees. “Hopefully they open more, but for now, just this one,” she said.
The Jugo Juice in CIF also re-opened as of Oct. 31. No timelines for the re-opening of other locations are known as of now.
A tweet from Wilfrid Laurier University Food Services alluded to similar staffing issues, requesting students to “be kind to [their] hard working team members as [they] fulfill[ed] labor shortages.” However, a look at WLU’s Food Services website shows that almost all Food Services locations are currently open, whereas UW’s Food Services website continues to display several locations as indefinitely closed.
Many students expressed concerns regarding the efficiency of current service via interviews and online polls conducted by Imprint via Instagram. A particular concern among students was that service is currently not efficient enough for them to get food in between classes. In addition, all students interviewed either hoped that the currently closed locations would open, or agreed that opening more locations would help with overly long wait times and provide students with more options, both in terms of location and food.
“I really enjoy the food, but it’s just really slow sometimes when I’m trying to eat lunch between classes,” said Mariana Mendes da Costa Matos, a first-year kinesiology student. She also stated that opening new locations could increase the choices available to students as well as efficiency of service.
“Sometimes there’s just a 10 minute gap between class[es], but if you want to get coffee you need to wait more than 10 minutes,” said Steve Tan, a graduate bioinformatics student.
“Pre-COVID, I would go to ML to eat all the time but that’s been closed so I kinda just don’t eat on campus anymore,” said Matthew Macmillan, a fourth-year arts and business student. “[Opening more locations] would probably cut the lines down by quite a bit, and also [offer] more diverse food offerings. If you had a class at Hagey, you could go eat [at Hagey], if you had a class at ML, you could go eat in ML instead of having to trek to SLC or STC.”
“I’ve been seeing a huge amount of crowds,” said Sneha Srinivasan, a Food Services worker currently in her second year in the SYDE Masters program.
“The staff is good, but I think there’s a lack of full-timers because there’s no proper guidance for us,” Srinivasan continued. She stated that the current food services locations were not sufficient for UW’s large student body.
Food Services described the efforts to get back to pre-pandemic levels of operations. “This has led to our largest recruitment and training effort ever experienced at UW Food Services; hence all the red training badges you will find visiting our eateries across campus. We encourage the UW community to support us by being patient with our new trainees as they learn their new tasks and responsibilities.”
Other businesses in the Waterloo region have described similar difficulties in finding staff to fill up shortages. Potential causes include an increase in experienced workers retiring early, insufficient pay, and a sudden increase in the supply of jobs in hospitality paired with low demand for them.
Inflation remains a main concern throughout salary negotiations, with employee retention presenting another issue. A study from Statistics Canada found that in the first quarter of 2022, 45 per cent of businesses stated they planned on raising wages for existing employees, though such initiatives may become difficult due to the lack of staff necessitating measures like shorter hours, reducing total revenue.
Imprint’s online poll found that many students were frustrated particularly with wait times at the SLC, leading some to choose alternate on-campus options like SCH. One student suggested that Imprint “test how long it takes to get DC Tim’s [sic] vs walking to the Tims on Philip and back to DC.”
In response to these complaints, Food Services stated that “we would like to thank our customers…for their continued patience and support as we recruit and train new employees. We encourage students to try our other restaurants around campus including Southside Marketplace in SCH, DC Bytes at the DC, Ev3rgreen Café in EV3 and the residence dining halls (REV, V1 and CMH) to avoid the long wait times during peak hours.”
This is a developing story.