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Employee Shortages Spark Dining Worker Burnout

by Emily Lohr

Photo via Chartwells Dining Service's Facebook page.

People always say there’s a light at the end of the tunnel, but what do you do when the tunnel just keeps getting longer? 

That’s what it feels like right now for the dining service workers. Prior to COVID-19, dining services had a sufficient number of workers. Once COVID-19 hit, they had less students on campus but still needed the same amount of crew behind the scenes. One of the people running the crew is Richard McMahon. McMahon is the director of campus dining services and has been working at Pitt for almost 30 years.

“We needed a server to plate everything from behind the plexiglass. Everything else was pre-made and packaged. They also had to pre-make the salads instead of having the salad bar,” McMahon said. 

The worker shortage started at the beginning of this semester. Because of this, the dining service employees have had to take on multiple different roles. 

One of those employees with shifting roles includes three-year dining services employee Andrew Parsons. 

“So whenever [my brother Tristan and I] came back after COVID-19, we realized that there were a lot of people who weren’t here that we knew back in 2019,” Parsons said. “We’re currently picking up the slack for all the people we do not have currently. Like Richard was mentioning, I do work here in the cafeteria and in Subway as well. I can do both. And it’s a bit of a mess.” 

Parsons isn’t the only worker who’s feeling burnt out from the lack of workers. 

“It feels like I’m working harder, not smarter. Because, like in my case, I have three jobs, catering, purchasing, and being the director of dining services,” McMahon said. “It’s been really hard. I’m the kind of person that when I leave everyday I need to know I did the greatest job. I haven’t felt that this year yet.” 

According to McMahon, there has also been an issue with the supply chain and deliveries. Sometimes, certain products won’t be available, and the staff aren’t aware until the shipment comes in the next week. Additionally, they have had trouble finding employees to transport the supplies. 

The issue that seems to puzzle McMahon the most, however, is the lack of student workers. Compared to the average of 20 student workers he had last year, McMahon only has 11 this year. According to him, they have been putting the message out regularly, using posters and routine online postings

“We even increased the wage from $7.50 to $9, with a $300 sign-on bonus,” he said.

McMahon also mentioned they are “extremely flexible” with scheduling and shifts can be as short as two hours.

Even with the long hours and lower number of staff, the dining services staff remains positive. This includes Pat Shannon, who’s been an employee for 13 years. 

“I’d say my favorite part is the students. Especially this last year, they have been very appreciative and thanking us for our hard work,” Shannon said. “Overall, the atmosphere with the students and my coworkers is something that keeps me going.” 

Anyone interested in applying for a full-time or part-time position in dining services can contact McMahon at

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