As Cornell Dining expands menu selections and updates safety protocols for the new semester, diners and employees alike have found problems with the process — including worker shortages, long lines and potentially unsafe food.
On Dec. 15, Cornell Dining announced its plans to offer more meal options each night, including ethnically diverse cuisines. Addressing student criticisms, dining halls reintroduced specialty stations and event-specific meals and expanded its satellite meal program from last fall.
As the dining experience changes for students, the nature of working at a dining hall has changed. When the eateries were self-serve, workers spent their time performing tasks like refilling trays, setting up machines and cutting desserts. Now, most of the work involves serving customers.
Emily Lasher ’21, a student supervisor at Robert Purcell Community Center, found it difficult for workers to uphold COVID-19 safety guidelines while serving a rush of people.
“You want the workers to be able to maintain the six feet, but you also want them to be serving quickly, so it’s definitely a challenge,” Lasher said.
Becker House Dining Room worker Kataryna Restrepo ’21 explained that the number of student diners has increased since last semester, putting a greater strain on the dining workers.
“There’s more work on us, and we have the same staff numbers,” Restrepo said. “It can be at times stressful, making sure that everyone gets in and out as soon as they can to limit interaction.”
In an effort to simplify the process for customers and staff, Cornell Dining announced the removal of the reservation system for take-out dining in mid-February, according to Karen Brown, senior director of campus life marketing and communications.
On the diners’ end, many students have expressed feelings of disappointment about this semester’s food quality, long lines and small portions. Some have even taken to Twitter and Instagram to voice their unease.
Instagram pages like “cornellfoodtrash” –– an account that posts ill-prepared Cornell Dining food –– have gained momentum, with cornellfoodtrash garnering over 400 followers to date.
Flora Rose House Dining Room worker Faith Taylor ’24 expressed her disappointment with North Campus dining, citing long lines and messy dining halls, though she appreciated the West Campus offerings this semester. She saw the social media backlash as a sign that Cornell Dining must improve.
“It just shouldn’t be like this,” Taylor said, “There should never be rumors going around about food poisoning. There shouldn’t be students getting raw food, and they shouldn’t be like ‘I need a whole Instagram page dedicated to how bad the food is.’”
In addition to continuous problems, students and workers noted an alleged food poisoning incident in early February.
“It was one night that was recent where they were supposed to have Caribbean food, and then the next day, apparently, a lot of people had gotten sick or were throwing up,” said Randi Hinds ’24, an employee at North Star Dining Hall.
According to Hinds, the affected students dined at the Robert Purcell Marketplace Eatery. She heard several cases of illness through personal friends. Her resident adviser checked in with Hinds’ floor after hearing similar reports from other North Campus RAs.
However, Restrepo said she doubts the veracity of these claims. “There was no proof it was food poisoning, and I know that in each dining hall, we have to temp our food,” she said. “As soon as it comes out of the oven or stove, we have to do internal temperature to make sure it’s fully cooked.”
University spokesperson Abby Butler said Cornell had no information to confirm a food poisoning incident.
But Taylor expressed skepticism toward North Campus dining halls.
“I truthfully and honestly feel as though they just don’t care at all what they’re serving the students,” she said.
Taylor described RPCC and Appel as overcrowded and unclean, saying that they bear the burden as the main two dining halls on North Campus. She has received food which she claimed was undercooked. Like Hinds, she heard reports of food poisoning from friends and North Campus RAs.
Restrepo, along with the other workers, said that Cornell Dining should address student concerns and make operational changes. However, she called for civility from students in the process.
Lasher said that, while students may be dissatisfied with dining halls this year, they shouldn’t blame the student workers. She recognized the need for Cornell Dining to upgrade, but also acknowledged the struggles of work during the pandemic.
“We recognize that the food may not be as good as it has been in years past because of the pandemic, but that’s something that folks should be more understanding of rather than resort to going online,” Restrepo said.