BY Noga Tenzin and Daniela Rojas
Tashi Mondak, who has worked as a Food Service employee at Cornell for over eight years, offers a perspective to students regarding the ‘behind-the-scenes’ of Cornell Dining: the time, effort and energy it takes to work in dining often goes unnoticed. What is unnoticed should often be appreciated, especially in the world of food service.
Mondak’s role has changed overtime, from Statler hotel as dishwasher, to working in Mac’s Cafe and Cornell Catering, to his current job in Morrison Dining. He notes the differences in atmosphere within a particular eatery is largely dependent on the number of diners that come on a daily basis. Mac’s Cafe typically only has 1,000 people per day, whereas Morrison Dining can have up to 5,000.
With a change in numbers and environment comes a change in attitude. While in Statler, Mondak recognizes the faces of students that come everyday. “They’ll see my name tag and [say] ‘Hi Tashi, how are you?’ Then I’ll say ‘Hi, I’m good!’” Students and workers, like Mondak, greet each other with a smile and offer a quick check-in. Because of the cafe setting, there are opportunities for interaction, making the job more engaging for workers.
“Mondak indicated how “when you only see food, it’s just the food. Behind [the serving counters], there are so many people’s hands, energy, and money.‘”
Morrison Dining, on the other hand, deals with roughly 5,000 students everyday. Employees can’t notice student’s faces most of the time because staff are occupied with cooking food, cleaning tables, and checking the temperatures of the food on the clock for safety.
If possible, Mondak recommends students getting a job in dining. Sure, it can help students to make a little money. However, such a job also enables students to gain perspective on what’s going on behind the scenes at the places they frequent for food on a daily basis.
Mondak indicated how “when you only see food, it’s just the food. Behind [the serving counters], there are so many people’s hands, energy, and money.” He also emphasizes how “respecti[ng] the food,” such as not wasting substantial amounts of food, is a way for students to acknowledge the time and effort that goes into dining.
The food is farm-to-table; there is an immense amount of effort that goes into the food getting to the Cornell Dining kitchens to begin with. Mondak recommends taking small portions of food, and then coming back for more later if desired, because in “some places, people are starving. Here, we are enjoying a lot of food [while] throwing a lot of it away.”
Another important factor students should consider is how important dishwasher etiquette is. Mondak mentioned how students should always follow the signs regarding where to put their utensils, plates, and waste after enjoying a meal. There’s specific locations to put leftover food for compost and other waste such as napkins. Mondak explains that when students don’t do this, it creates problems when washing dishes, emphasizing a need for improvement.
Most importantly, students should respect the staff. Respect is a two-way street. Workers work hard so students have one less thing to worry about in their busy lives, given how “because of students we can survive, and without us, students can’t get food.” Mondak starts his workday at 6 a.m., opening the breakfast line at the iron grill in Morrison and ends after lunch at 2:30 p.m. with a smile on his face, ensuring all goes well.
Respect comes in many forms, even in non-verbal forms. For instance, whenever getting food, taking the time to try to keep the counter neat to avoid messes is a kind yet overlooked gesture. “[Dishwasher etiquette] is also appreciation, you know. You don’t need to say something like ’Nice work!’ [Appreciation can be] putting your own plate in the right direction and whatever instructions for the bins for the silverware.”
Mondak wants students to “just enjoy the food,” and if something isn’t tasty or needs improvements, students can provide feedback all the time using the QR codes posted in dining halls. Cornell Dining is constantly working to improve student experiences; “We have everything. We have all the facilities, we have good vegetables, meat, protein, everything. We have nice coolers, stove — everything is brand new.”
Additionally, “we have [good] people.” These people have different views, ideas and backgrounds. Mondak feels lucky to be given this opportunity to “go back to [his] community and serve them with respect, with dignity, with pride.”
“In other words, respect Cornell Dining staff and respect your privilege. A little goes a long way.“
Alongside everything mentioned above, Mondak wants to highlight the privilege that Cornell students have. It may be easy to forget with the hustle and bustle of being a college student, but perspectives matter. Mondak feels that students are fortunate “because when I was in school, we had to cook (and clean) everything.”
“Cornell is not just a small college, it’s a university, an Ivy League, a top school in North America,” Mondak remarks, adding how students can turn America into whatever direction they desire. Cornell enables students to “have [a] better opportunity to study and become something: a doctor, engineer, whatever.” Cornell Dining is one of the main resources that enables students to stay physically fulfilled and able to work on their studies. In other words, respect Cornell Dining staff and respect your privilege. A little goes a long way.
Daniela Rojas (she/her), dining editor, is a third-year student in the College of Arts & Sciences. She can be reached at [email protected].
Noga Yangzom Tenzin (she/they), dining contributor, is a first-year student in the College of Arts & Sciences. She can be reached at [email protected].