As Lehigh Dining transitions back to in-person dining after a temporary period of take-out only, dining halls and on-campus retail dining locations are struggling due to a labor and product shortage.
Evan Rehrig, marketing manager of dining services, said a lot of the issues are derived from the nationwide labor shortages.
“It’s a myriad of challenges,” Rehrig said. “Even if you go out to any restaurants in downtown Bethlehem or anywhere, you see help wanted signs on the front doors and unfortunately we’re not immune to that. We are approximately 80 employees short.”
As a result of the labor shortage, Lehigh was forced to temporarily close Common Grounds and Hillside Cafe so other dining locations on campus, such as The Grind, could operate, Rehrig said.
Mike Hazaz, ‘24, said he has seen the impacts of the labor shortage at Rathbone Dining Hall.
“Sometimes, especially with the sandwich place at Rathbone, they would only have one person who was already busy to help take care of the line,” Hazaz said.
Rehrig said Lehigh Dining will be offering a sign-on bonus to new employees and incentive bonuses to current employees who are able to bring in new staff. Additionally, the Lehigh Dining team is advertising wherever possible to attract new employees.
Emma Flinchbaugh, ‘24, said she prefers indoor dining versus takeout dining because it is easier to find spaces to eat with friends.
“And especially as it gets colder, it’s a little bit more difficult to try and find a space outside to sit together,” she said.
According to dining hall counts provided by Rehrig, there were fewer students dining at Rathbone when take-out dining was the only option.
During the week ending on Sept. 10, when students were able to dine in, there were 12,378 total diners. The following week, when Rathbone switched to take-out dining only, there were 9,359 total diners.
Rehrig said it should be noted that Lehigh’s family weekend began on Sept. 17 and events like the university hosted Brown and White Barbecue could have impacted that week’s count at Rathbone.
“If I’m being honest, I did not get the takeout containers at all,” Flinchbaugh said. “I just would get something, like food from the cafes, or just eat at my apartment. I did not want to deal with the hassle of the takeout containers.”
Takeout containers presented challenges for Lehigh Dining because of nation wide product shortages. Dining hall employees resorted to giving out disposable takeout containers due to a shortage of standard reusable Eco-Containers.
“Students are impacted the most and we just sincerely appreciate their understanding, their patience and willingness to work with us through all this,” Rehrig said. “We know it’s not ideal, but we’re turning the corner. And I personally have spoken to many students who are still appreciative of our services and our understanding of the challenges we’re going through.”