Most of us have probably experienced the commotion of a cafeteria, whether it's the line that never seems to end, the food that can sometimes either taste too salty or too bland, or that one dish that has been served for the third time in a week (we are not alone—even the CIA complains about their cafeteria).
Nevertheless, all of these "inconveniences" cannot compare to the pain of trying to cook a healthy, balanced meal three times a day. And still, some of us forget to take a moment to appreciate the variety of food available, the cafeteria that looks magically clean every time we walk in, the smiles that the employees give us even though they know they might have to work overtime that day. Often, we even forget to clean up the mess we leave behind as we rush quickly to class or work.
I have been eating at my college's cafeteria for the past three years and I, too, am guilty of my complaints about a few of my bad experience there. However, as I learned more about the employee's experience and witnessed some of my friends' behaviors that can be quite traumatizing to the cafeteria's employees, I knew I had to do something about it.
I want to point out that we are not here to shame ourselves for our past behavior. A lot of times, our mistakes aren't intentional. The cafeteria's staff probably expect more than half of these actions to happen on a day to day basis. If you have done one of the things below, then continue reading. If you haven't, I'm sure the cafeteria's employees love you.
Things that will land you on the cafeteria's blacklist:
- Stealing utensils
- Dropping food and "forgetting" to pick it up
- Spilling drinks (rumor says that a few accidents have happened due to this incident)
- Forgetting to check the waffle maker and accidentally burning it (the cafeteria probably had to replace the waffle maker's plate)
- Not paying attention to the waiting line
- Leaving your plate full of food at the dish station
- Taking all (more than one) the food items left on the self-serving tray(s)
- Not saying "thank you," "please," or "sorry"
If you have admitted to doing at least one of the things above, here are a few simples steps you can take to help fix your mistakes and to let the cafeteria's employees know that their work is appreciated. These will also help make their lives so much easier.
Say "thank you" and "please" after you have been served. That is the least you can do to let the staff know that you appreciate the work they put in for us ten hours a day, seven days a week.
Also respect your fellow friends. Get your ID ready before you enter the cafeteria and don't hang around the check-in table. People may be waiting behind you. I have noticed this on so many occasions especially during rush hours and it is very frustrating.
If you see that there are five pieces of food items left on the tray, don't take all of them. The people behind you may be disappointed after waiting for more than ten minutes to find out that you left nothing for them. And please don't complain in front of the people who are serving you. Imagine spending all day preparing a meal only to hear complaints.
2. Clean up your mess
Pick up your tissue or scraps that you dropped on your way to and from your seat. It's torture trying to clean up after a trail of rice that has been stepped on. Clean up the table after you've finished. It takes you only a few seconds and it makes not only our dining staff much happier, but our friends who will be sitting after you on that same dining table will be very thankful.
3. Scrape food off your plate
I have worked part-time in dining service before and this is a huge help. It makes the work a lot faster and a lot less dirty. Cleaning mushed food off a plate is not a pleasant.
4. Be aware of your actions and surroundings
Millions of food items are wasted each day and milk is among the top five. I have been told by both the people who work in the restaurant business and the cafeteria employers about the amount of food students and customers waste per day. It is very sad and disappointing, especially when we hear about these issues everyday on a lot of college campuses.
Wasted food is also a reminder of wasted energy, money, and time that workers put in. Learn how to reduce food waste. Start by serving yourself a small amount of food and get seconds instead. Also, stop stealing the salt and pepper bottles or utensils. Take care of the facility. We will help save a lot of the cafeteria's budget that could have been spent on other foods.
5. Educate yourself and those around you
Educate yourself about the food service industry. Spend some time talking to the employees while you are waiting in line for your omelet or sandwich. You will learn more about their work and thus appreciate it more. And plus, it makes them feel more connected to you at a human to human level.
6. Live with intentions
"Our attitude towards food consumption reflects the quality of food production process. Our attitude towards food waste reflects hunger all around the world. So learn to live with intention and awareness. And if all of us can do that, the world will become a better place." —Charles "Rick" Wright, director of Sewanee's Dining Services