(Rock Hill, S.C.) — Whether it’s morning or afternoon, weekday or weekend, workers at the Thomson Dining Hall are always serving Winthrop University students, faculty, staff and visitors.
“We recognize that our employees are what makes us successful,” said Bryan Harriss, general manager of Winthrop Dining Services.
Thomson employees complete a number of different tasks daily — including preparing and serving food, cleaning tables and dishes, refilling drink machines and replacing silverware — often with little fanfare.
“My job is to make sure it runs smooth,” said David Galka, a supervisor at Thomson.
Galka said, along with ensuring that all the food is presented properly, he checks to see that everybody is “nice and friendly and smiling.”
He described interacting with students as the best part of his job. “I get to meet so many of them and I get to talk to so many of them,” he said. “That’s my favorite part.”
Since Sodexo became the food provider for Dining Services, replacing Aramark, in August 2018; many students have expressed concerns about the food served in Thomson. For example, some have said there is a lack of variety and a shortage of vegetarian and vegan options at the dining hall.
Galka said he and other employees always make an effort to listen to how students feel.
“The kids here are not shy. They’ll tell you, which is good,” Galka said. “If the students will keep on giving the feedback…it helps. Whether it’s good or whether it’s bad, that’s how you learn.”
However, complaints about the food was not the only issue employees faced during the transition to a new food provider.
“Last year was our first year (with Sodexo),” Harriss said. “We had a number of accidents and we find that unacceptable, because we need a safe workplace.”
According to Harriss, Thomson employees gather for “daily huddles” in between meals to make plans and discuss safety.
“Safety is a big deal with us, because we’re using equipment that is hot and sometimes can be dangerous,” said Harriss.
He said the daily huddles also serve as a time for employees to ask questions and express any concerns they have.
Another topic of concern could be a shortage of staff.
“We have some employees that are getting overtime often, because we don’t have enough employees at times,” Harriss said.
However, Harriss described that as “normal turnover,” because Dining Services typically has 8-10 percent of positions open at any given time.
“There’s some nights, like tonight, where you’re short, but if you have good people working with you, it doesn’t seem that way at all,” Galka said.
Harriss said Dining Services works to acknowledge “exceptional employees,” through an employee of the month program and the observance of an Employee Appreciation Day on March 6, which often includes a party, cake, gifts and other incentives.
Recently, Nancy Babington, a cashier at Thomson who has worked for Winthrop for the past seven years, was honored as employee of the month.
“It meant a lot to me. I love what I do here and getting the chance to greet students everyday brings me a smile,” said Babington.
“I drive down here from Charlotte,” Galka said. “I live like, almost an hour away from this place. I wouldn’t come down here every day if (Winthrop) didn’t treat me good.”
Many students said they feel like they are also treated well by the Thomson staff.
Seth Merritt, a sophomore biology major, said he often hears supportive phrases such as “Good morning baby, how are you today?” and “Hey buddy, how’s your day been?,” from Thomson employees.
“I just love the interactions,” said Merritt.
“I have gotten to know a few of the cashiers well and have conversations with them and they remember who I am,” said Nakia Williams, a junior elementary education major.
“There are some employees that sometimes might just be having a bad day, and I can feel that,” Williams said. “I think most employees at Thomson are friendly.”
Babington said it’s important to have positive interactions with students.
“I stay positive because you never know what’s behind a smile and a stranger may need one, one day,” she said “You never know what someone is going through and I’m glad my simple smile and a ‘hello,’ perhaps, could change someone’s day, and I really appreciate the chance to get to talk.”
Additionally, there are plans in place to further improve student satisfaction in Thomson, by renovating the dining hall.
Over the holiday break, the walls of Thomson were given a new blue and white paint scheme.
Harriss said the dining hall will also get new floors, tables, lights, and new or reupholstered chairs and booths by the start of June.
He said the renovations should have a positive effect on both the customers and employees.
“We’re always trying to improve,” Galka said. “Every day – every meal honestly – is a way to improve, each and every time.”
* Bailey Fudala contributed to this report.