(l-r) Anshumi Shah '24, Andy Wong '22, and Audra Kingsley '22 are among the undergraduates who work for Boston College Dining Services. (Photo by Caitlin Cunningham)

A free meal, flexible shifts, and the two-minute walk back to her residence hall with an extra 50 bucks in her pocket are what first attracted Jade Keene ’22 to work at Late Night three years ago—but the boyfriend she met along the way sticks out now as the best takeaway from the experience.

“They can thank BC Dining for that,” laughed Tomas Ferrer ’22, who bonded with Keene over Eagles hockey banter while serving mozzarella sticks and chicken tenders as co-workers and later introduced Keene to her now-boyfriend.

BC Dining Services counts on students like Keene and Ferrer to help serve more than 22,000 meals a day at 13 different locations across campus. However, recruiting enough student workers has been difficult since the pandemic, leading to longer lines and fewer options than ever before.

“If you look at the numbers, normally we have about 800 students,” said BCDS Director Beth Emery. “Now we’re under 400. We have less than we’ve ever had in the last five years. And we really don’t know why.”

It’s a problem facing officials at universities across the country, with labor shortages making it increasingly difficult for dining halls to find enough people to put food on the tables.

After cutting opening hours, ending dinner at two locations, and barring service to the public wasn’t enough to slow down record long lines at Michigan State University, administrators emailed professors to ask them to consider volunteering for a night or weekend shift, according to the Lansing State Journal. “Many businesses in the local area and around the country are hiring, and we are all competing for the same available talent,” the email said.

BCDS is responding by upping benefits, increasing outreach, and doubling down on making places like Addie’s or Mac accommodating and stress-free spots for students to make some extra cash.

 “I would love to hire more BC students,” said BCDS Human Resources Manager Beth Ann Burns. “This is your college. This is your home. I’d like to see you be the one to make the money.”

So far, Keene has done that every semester she’s been at Boston College.

“This year I’m working mostly in catering, so the scheduling is really flexible,” she said. “My boss emails me the days he’s in and the hours I can come in and I just go whenever I’m available.” If she ends up with extra time on short notice, she can always pick up a shift last minute as well.

To Keene, that flexibility is what sets the job apart from others students might find on campus or off. “You build your work around your availability and your schedule, and if things come up and you need to drop a shift for unforeseen reasons they’re really accommodating because they understand that you’re a student and you have other priorities that come first. But they’re also really good at making sure that when you want to work you’re able to work and they’ll have you.”

Bridging the labor gap quickly is especially important for Dining Services now, as they plan to launch a newly renovated wing of McElroy Commons in January, with four new meal lines and a wood-fired pizza oven.

“The job often is perceived as not exciting or glamorous,” Emery said. “But the students that do come to work for us love it.”

That rings true to Keene: “I’ve had a really good experience and I can say the same for my friends. If you’re looking for anything, they’ll work with you and they’ll work around you.”

Morrissey College of Arts and Sciences senior Lucas Carroll | December 2021