As any hungry student can attest, it’s easy to get a bit lost as you walk into the Ruth Stricker Dayton Campus Center. The entire main floor is flooded with a variety of delicious scents, as well as people rushing to find a table and beat the lines in Cafe Mac. Sometimes, we can forget that not only are we being served by our peers, but that a whole crew is rushing around behind the walls to keep food and plates coming.
For Classical Mediterranean and Middle East major Elena Stanley ’22, working in the food service industry was expected. Stanley said she “figured at some point [she] would be a waitress to make money.” With the position of “half barista, half handing out food,” employment at the Grille is an enjoyable experience.
“Working at the Grille is super awesome, there are nice people and a set of rules to follow,” Stanley said. “We have had meetings about stocking food or changing out display cases, which is a big deal in the food service industry.”
Some student workers have little experience regarding the jobs they are assigned, so supervisors are eager to share their knowledge. Andrew Lee ’23, works at Cafe Mac, primarily in the dish room, so executing other jobs requires some initial guidance.
“Jabari [Pierre] was helpful with showing me the ropes for cleaning and stocking,” Lee said.
Like Stanley, he expected to spend time in this line of work. “When I got work study because of financial aid, I assumed that this was the most traditional job a student would have,” Lee said.
Many students who eat at Cafe Mac don’t realize what happens behind the scenes.
“My job is to put the food in a big bin and send the plates to washing,” Lee said. “More often than I would like, people don’t sort their compost and utensils, so I have to do that for them.”
Simple things that might go unnoticed by many students can be annoyances for workers.
“Don’t leave napkins in the things you drink out of. They always get stuck, meaning I have to pick your milky napkins out of cups, making my life less happy,” Lee said.
“I’m 5 feet 2 inches, so when you stack your cups and and put them on the top rack so they get caught between the rack and the shelf, I can’t get them out without spilling on myself.”
Oftentimes, student workers face the hardships food service staff encounter. “A lot of times, folks that work in the food service industry can be undervalued. There is a dehumanization of workers, more generally, not just at Mac,” Lee said. “There’s a lot of human work that goes into Cafe Mac.”
“I think the general population does not realize everything that we do for them and that we are trying to be their allies and work with them,” Stanley said.
“People maybe don’t think about how hard it is to feed the many people that go to Mac,” Lee added. “On a heavy night, about 500 [students] come and go, and some people forget that when they offer criticisms of the workers and management [in Cafe Mac].”
Workers at Bon Appétit share the common goal of feeding students and keeping them happy.
“Recently, the management is trying to make the menu more interesting for the student body, which includes trial and error,” Stanley said. “Reactions to the fall break menu has made some staff begin to change their minds about the current menu. We make sure the students can eat.”
Stanley, from Duluth, Minnesota, hopes to study abroad in Greece sometime in the near future. She loves investigating the connections between ancient languages and modern ones, and is going on the January in Rome program next month.
Lee is very interested in American studies. He enjoys that at Macalester, unlike other schools he attended, the lenses of systemic power and identity are used to analyze the many faceted American society.
At the end of the day, these student workers want people to understand the amount of care that goes into sustaining food services for Macalester students.
“There’s a whole team behind each plate,” Lee said.