Covering the Land of Lincoln

University of Illinois dining halls are fully staffed, thanks to 2-hour shifts

The ISR dining commons at University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign allows students to work 2-hour shifts. /Photo by Kirk Snyder, Blue Tie Photo

Like other college dining programs, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign faced post-pandemic foodservice staff shortages. And students, who previously took up the slack, were finding that the usual four-hour shifts were not compatible with their crammed class schedules.

As dining supervisor and student manager at the newly renovated Illinois Street Residence Hall (ISR), unit administrator Nita Mohabir was having a hard time filling shifts. “I came up with the idea to cut the four-hour shifts down to about two hours and we soon were fully staffed,” she says. “The students were grateful for the flexibility and that we were so accommodating.”

The shifts run from 7-9 am and 9-10:30 am for breakfast, 10:30 am-12:30 pm and 12:30-2:30 pm for lunch, and 4:30-6:30 pm and 6 :30-9pm for dinner. If a student has a class that runs over, Mohabir adapts to their schedule.

Students are paid $13.50 an hour, and if they are promoted to the student coordinator position, the pay is $15.50.

At ISR, most of the students are positioned at Latitudes, the international station, and Fusion 48, the Asian station. “These are the stations with a Chipotle-style line, so the students help diners customize their orders,” Mohabir says. That frees up the cooks to staff the kitchen, where the preparation and cooking jobs require more culinary skills.

The rest of the stations at ISR are self-serve, so students who work at those are tasked with keeping the areas stocked and clean.

The university uses software called WhenToWork to facilitate scheduling. Students can access it through a mobile app or laptop and choose their preferred shifts every week; the template changes weekly. University Dining requires students to work at least eight hours or four shifts per week. The ISR dining commons employs about 300 students.

The student microshifts have been so successful that Mohabir is going to institute the program at the University of Illinois’ Ikenberry Dining Center next semester, where she has since moved to become foodservice administrator. About 350 students will take part, she says.

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