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Belmont dining services face critical staff shortage — and there’s no end in sight

Updated: Apr 25, 2022

Behind the scenes of breakfast, lunch and dinner at Belmont, university dining services are desperate for staff.

Despite advertisements across Nashville, hiring incentives and pleas to the student population for job applicants, Belmont is still short-staffed at all the eateries on campus.

“Ever since COVID has happened, the workforce has dramatically changed. People are afraid to come to work around crowds,” said Susan Matheson, general manager of Sodexo at Belmont. “I have some really great paying jobs … It’s hard to get people to apply to those jobs, which it never used to be.”

Matheson oversees nine dining operations at Belmont, and they are hurting for staff across the board — especially with the recent grand openings of Einstein Bros. Bagels and Chick-fil-A retail locations on campus.

Belmont dining services does not start any employee below $15 an hour, and many of the positions they are hiring for come with flexible hours and benefits, Matheson said.

“We have a sign-on bonus for a cook for $1,500. We’ve had two applicants,” she said. The university is even offering a $500 sign on bonus for student applicants. Those job postings are going unanswered.

Spread so thin, many employees on Belmont’s current dining staff are picking up extra workdays or double shifts, with some logging up to 100 hours per 14-day pay cycle or going weeks without a day off, said Matheson.

Chasitie Walker, who works in Belmont’s main cafeteria at Harrington Place Dining, said that most people who work there come in six or seven days a week.

“We’re just all over,” said Walker. “We’ve come together as a team to help each other out.”

But without enough staff to serve food at mealtimes, the cafeteria has seen some layout changes, with a few stations relying on student self-service, which raised a few concerns about COVID-19 transmission.

“They’re kind of going back to the buffet style, where everyone’s touching the spoons to get their food, so I’m not really a big fan of that,” said sophomore Bishop Ryan.

Matheson said COVID-19 cases have not contributed to the worker shortage in the dining facilities, but the operations may not survive the hit of a staff-wide outbreak. If that happens, Belmont dining services may be forced to pull available staff members from other departments or even draw from Belmont’s Residence Life community and have RAs serve food, as they did during the ice storm that sacked campus in February.

Health and safety of staff and students remain the highest priorities, Matheson said.

Belmont’s dining services have not seen the same widespread closures as neighbors Vanderbilt and Lipscomb, who are suffering from similar staffing needs, but the employee shortage in the Bruins’ own backyard is starting to take its toll.

And its first victim is McAllister’s.

The deli on Belmont Boulevard stands closed until further notice since so many of its workers are next door helping keep the Chick-fil-A afloat after the new eatery opened Sept. 13.

Chick-fil-A’s corporate staffing requirements are strict, said Matheson. Pulling manpower from McAllister’s will help keep the doors open, but even then, there is not enough staff to keep typical operating hours.

“We can’t even open for breakfast into late-night because we don’t have enough workforce. Chick-fil-A won’t allow it, so we can only be open 11 to 8,” said Matheson.

It’s not just Belmont that’s affected by the staffing crisis, not just Nashville, and not just the United States — it’s a global problem.

Further up the supply chain, the companies that manufacture and deliver the products used by Belmont dining services are also understaffed. While there’s enough food on campus to feed everyone, a few favorites are missing from the cafeteria.

“We’ve run out of juice a lot here in the dining room. Pepsi can’t fill our orders because they don’t have the product,” said Matheson.

And there’s no telling when these problems will go away.

Walker said she’s seen students’ frustrations, and she wants people to know that the dining staffers are doing the best they can.

“It’s tough, but we like our jobs. We like to cook and everything and help y’all to stay happy and eat well,” said Walker

“We just try to maintain a clean environment and smiles on our faces with the mask on too.”

PHOTO: Supervisor Steve Lutchman serving up meals at Harrington Place Dining. Belmont Vision / Maddie Buchman

This article was written by Anna Jackson. Contributory reporting by Melody Scott, Maddie Buchman and Sarah Maninger.

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