San Diego State workers at various East Commons dining locations said challenges during the transition back this semester have included fear of exposure to COVID-19, staffing shortages and more.
Vinnie’s Pizza crew lead and biology third year Celestin Albaran said wearing masks is one of the biggest and newest challenges for restaurant workers on campus.
“I know it’s an issue that goes back-and-forth, enforcing mask-wearing.” Albaran said. “I think for me the biggest issue was I knew that at my register, the mask policy wouldn’t be as enforced the same way as when a student would be walking around anywhere else on campus.”
Albaran also said wearing masks is a sign of mutual respect because while she wants everybody to have the freedom to make their own choices, she needs to ensure she runs her units at Vinnie’s in a safe way.
Another fear for some on-campus restaurant workers include their potential exposure to COVID-19 while serving the increased number of students, faculty and staff this semester.
“I know that most of us are vaccinated, if not all of us, (but) I still felt concerned a little bit,” Albaran said. “It sucks to be like ‘wow, this one person who has their mask underneath their nose could give me COVID right now.’”
For another crew lead at Vinnie’s, it’s not as pressing of a concern.
“I’m vaccinated. I’m not in a high-risk category, so I’m not concerned on that front,” computer science third year Ethan Rosenberg said. “SDSU Dining’s protocols are pretty good. Obviously, you can’t enforce masks inside East Commons because people are eating but all transactions have to have a mask on and all employees have to wear a mask.”
This is Rosenberg’s first job and he started at Vinnie’s earlier this summer.
Albaran has worked at Vinnie’s since 2019 and has seen it transition from pre-pandemic operation to the virtual year’s operation during 2020 and to now in 2021, as the campus has about 80% of classes in person.
According to the university, 33 student employees worked at East Commons in 2019, 31 students in 2020 and 37 student in 2021.
“Salad Bistro in East Commons, they were seeing during that COVID year about 12 people a day versus now, it’s like 12 people in the span of about 20 minutes, maybe,” Albaran said.
Director of SDSU Dining Paul Melchior who oversees all dining on campus, said one of the biggest challenges coming back to a majority in-person semester was the labor shortage and the lack of returning employees for both full-time and part-time positions.
“This is my 21st fall semester (working in dining) and they’re always dynamic and challenging, but fun,” Melchior said. “This has been the hardest (year) in 21 years.”
In 2019, Melchior said each restaurant would serve between 300 and 1,000 customers per day, and in 2020, around 60 to 100 customers per day. During this semester, each restaurant averages anywhere from 200 to 500 customers per day depending on the restaurant and day.
Melchior said after the campus closed in March 2020 at the height of the pandemic, SDSU Dining donated most of their food to Feeding America, San Diego Foodbank, local fire stations and local hospitals to support pandemic workers working around the clock.
He also said student employees were kept on staff and paid throughout the entire spring 2020 semester even though they couldn’t work.
“Higher-ups have been making the effort to show us that we are appreciated,” Albaran said. “It definitely helps even though you’re feeling uncertain about ‘is this safe?’ There are people who are higher up who are making the rules that genuinely do care.”