Vaibhav Sharma, Senior Photographer

On Friday, Yale Hospitality announced in an email to students that staffing challenges made it likely that dining hall services would soon be altered. Those potential service changes were not announced, however, to the staff in question.

The email, sent by Associate Vice President of Yale Hospitality Rafi Taherian, told students that there were significant staffing challenges nationwide — which have affected the Yale Hospitality team. Due to the staff shortage, Taherian warned that there may be shifts in the team’s service models in the next few weeks, which would come as a “last resort.”

“Our team has done its best to provide uninterrupted service across multiple dining locations, made possible by working lengthier shifts and sacrificing their work-life balance,” Taherian wrote in the email. “While talent recruitment is ongoing to fill vacant positions, we are at the point where we have to make some difficult decisions.”

Christelle Ramos, senior manager of marketing and communications at Yale Hospitality, described the potential changes in dining service in an email to the News. According to Ramos, changes may range from leveraging to-go containers or unexpected delays in service. She also told the News that some decisions may be specific to certain dining halls, which will be communicated to affected students.

The Ivy, a late-night servery in the basement of the Schwarzman Center that was launched last spring, remains closed due to staff shortages.

“This unique staffing shortage is not news to our team members, hospitality workers in general, and throughout the nation,” Ramos wrote. 

The News spoke to eight dining hall workers across multiple dining halls. All eight dining hall workers said they were not told by their direct managers or by Yale Hospitality administrators about the possible service changes. Many were not aware of the current staffing shortage at all. 

All workers were granted anonymity for fear of professional retaliation or termination for speaking to reporters. 

Dining hall workers react

One anonymous dining hall worker told the News that unlike students, he was never informed by the Yale Hospitality team about the current staffing shortage. The worker said he only found out about the University-wide issue after being contacted for this story. 

Many of his fellow co-workers in their dining hall had recently been working longer shifts, the worker said, but he assumed that it was a problem restricted to that specific residential college.

“I know there’s [workers] who aren’t as happy [as before] that they have been having to make sacrifices in their daily life because it’s been busy in the dining halls,” he said.

Another dining hall worker said she had recently begun to feel overworked and decided she would no longer work overtime. The worker described assisting other co-workers at her own dining hall who needed help covering shifts. But this, in combination with her own 10-hour days, had proven to be too much.

“That’s why I stopped [working overtime hours],” she said to the News. “I was burnt out.”

Full and part-time dining hall staff suggested that Yale Hospitality elevate more casual workers to permanent positions to combat the shortage. Casual workers are not officially hired by Yale Hospitality, one worker said, but rather work a certain number of hours in hopes of obtaining a contract as a full or part-time employee. 

One casual worker said that she noted many job openings, especially in the mornings and on weekends. When asked by the News if she hoped to work more hours every week, she said yes. 

“I would do it in a heartbeat,” she said.

In the meantime, she does not have a contract and is not part of a union — so the news about staffing shortages worried her. On the other hand, some full and part-time workers interviewed by the News were not afraid about potential changes in dining hall service, since they have contracts and cannot be laid off.

All eight workers interviewed by the News noted a lack of communication between Yale Hospitality administration and staff.

“As far as communication [goes], I will say, there’s a lack,” another worker said. “Because students know what’s going on and us being the worker, you know you’re a server for the students, you should also know too.”

One worker told the News that she has not changed her regular hours, assuming that staffing shortages were present in certain dining halls — not all. 

“You know, we should be informed about stuff like that,” she said. “Well, if they’re gonna announce this to the world, we should have had a meeting about it first. I’m sure the managers knew about it.”

The News attempted to speak to four dining hall managers, all of whom directed questions to Yale Hospitality’s senior leadership team. Ramos told the News that while “detailed information” regarding staffing shortages was shared with over 60 members of management teams, some employees “may not have received updates at the same time due to their varied schedules.”

In response to dining hall workers’ complaints, Ramos told the News that senior management is engaged in efforts to relay transparent communication with the rest of the Yale Hospitality team.

“Our aim is to ensure that our managers and team members feel supported while they do their best to support you, the students,” Ramos wrote in an email to the News. “There are vast complexities with properly outfitting a hospitality organization.” 

A national problem

George Washington University professor of hospitality management Liang Yu explained the surrounding context of Yale Hospitality’s current staffing shortage to the News.

“Before the pandemic, in 2019, everything was operating at a capacity for speed … the dining hall was all filled to its capacity,” Yu said. “Now when the pandemic hit, [the operators] had to cut the staffing because students all went back home or turned to virtual spaces for learning. And so the facility probably was shut down for a while. And now the tricky part was to bring them back.”

Yu said that when staff in the institutional dining sector of the hospitality industry were let go, it affected employees physically, mentally and psychologically — with many wishing for a career, not a job, and a more stable one.

When the hospitality industry began to recruit again, these workers had a different outlook on job choice.

“All organizations had to fight for talent,” Yu said. “So then opportunities came for the hospitality workers…[they] could go into retail, [they] could go into real estate, and [I know some are now] sales managers for hotels.”

Many workers found these alternative sectors more attractive, generally because they had higher pay and more flexible hours, Yu said. He also mentioned that a respect factor played an important role in pushing these workers away from institutional dining — three dining hall workers interviewed by the News mentioned that they felt spoken down to or subject to condescension by their manager.

“We have potential, our hospitality workforce,” Yu said. “If we take care of them, they will take care of our students.”

The Yale Hospitality office is at 246 Church St.

William Porayouw covered Woodbridge Hall for the News and previously reported on international strategy at Yale. Originally from Redlands, California, he is an economics and global affairs major in Davenport College.