Students voice CulinArt concerns after recent staffing shortages

CulinArt GM looking for student feedback

Written By Jake Dabkowski, Editor Elect

CulinArt Services have recently initiated temporary changes to their operations due to shortages of staff, which they have announced has been caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Although this may be the case, students say their issues with CulinArt date back to before the pandemic began.

On November 4, CulinArt staff sent an email to all students saying that Point Café would be closing early at 5 p.m. “due to short staff.” Another email was sent on November 8 announcing the early closure of Point Perk that evening; staffing problems were also mentioned there.

“Post-pandemic workforce is definitely not easy, that’s not just for food service, that’s anywhere you go anymore,” Kristy Weiss, the General Manager for CulinArt, said. “We’ve actually been very fortunate for the most part where we were able to open fully and then unfortunately as the semester went on we lost some people. And while we’re trying to rehire people, we’re finding less people in the world want to work.”

CulinArt, Point Park’s main food supplier since 2016, provides dining operations within the campus’ main dining hall, Point Cafe, Point Perk and the Playhouse Cafe, and occasionally hosts Pop-Up Cafes around campus.

Despite being Point Park’s main provider, students have said that CulinArt’s recent changes to their operations and schedule have not been their first negative dining experience with CulinArt and that problems have been happening long before the pandemic began.

“My experience with Point Park dining was abysmal, to say the least,” Olivia Perris, a former Point Park student, said. “I attended pre-COVID in the Fall of 2019, so I can’t speak for dining now, but at the time my options were very limited. I would often eat once a day.”

According to Perris, a recent visit to Virginia Tech highlighted the disparity between CulinArt’s dining options and other universities.

“Virginia Tech’s dining was incredible, even with their short staffing due to COVID,” Perris said. “Students had countless options to choose from … the food also changed daily, and they would sometimes have luxury menu items like steak and lobster. Every dining hall had vegan and vegetarian options.”

Point Park has a staggered approach for dining plans for incoming freshmen, transfer students, returning students and returning students to the Boulevard Apartments as well as commuters. Generally speaking, students can choose either block meal plans or week-by-week plans and come with Flex dollars, which allow purchases of individual food items like Oreo cookies or sushi.

A semester of unlimited meals at Point Park, an institution with an enrollment of approximately 3,591 students, costs $3,650 and offers $150 Flex dollars. At Virginia Tech, a school that has over 37,000 students enrolled, a premium plan is $2,583 and offers $1,149 Flex dollars.

“When per semester Point Park is charging students over $1,000 dollars more, it’s unacceptable that our options paled in comparison,” Perris said.

With this ongoing issue, members of the Student Government Association (SGA) have been working with CulinArt to improve the dining options available to students.

“I’m thankful for CulinArt, but they are very understaffed,” Francesca Bracey, an SGA senator, said. “Obviously, there’s nothing I can do about it, but I am trying to make sure there are more nutritious items for the dancers, sports players and others who need it. I don’t believe these certain people are getting what they need. A salad isn’t going to do much for them, and the dining hall isn’t open that long for them to grab the comfort food item that day so we need more options in the cafe.”

Another issue students have raised with CulinArt’s food selection is accessibility to foods for people with allergies and vegetarian options.

“I have a friend who had both a gluten and lactose allergy, and her options were very limited,” Perris said. “She would often eat eggs cooked on a contraband waffle maker in her dorm room. Vegan students had basically no options. I thought that was unacceptable when the meal plan for students living in the dorms was mandatory, and there were no communal kitchens.”

Bracey also expressed concern over the lack of allergy-free options provided by CulinArt.

“We need more food for those with allergies,” Bracey said. “We are very limited with dairy, gluten and even vegan food options.”

Student government members have begun to work with Kristy Weiss and faculty members to find solutions to resolve the issues that students have been experiencing within the residential dining halls.

“I’m working with Kristy Weiss so that the students here do have the food that they need,” Bracey said. “My goal is to start with the staffing issue at hand. Before I can change or make improvements for what I want, I have to make sure that we have enough people to keep these facilities open the times they should be.”

“I’m grateful for the Point Park students because everyone has been very patient,” Weiss said. “Everyone understands, unfortunately, the new reality of post-pandemic and eventually we will get past this. It would be different if it were just us, but it’s literally everyone.”

Going forward, Weiss said she hopes to find ways to address the gaps in staffing with on-the-go items and automation.

“For example, being short staffed we had to re-evaluate the [milkshake bar],” Weiss said. “Today, we purchased a F’real machine for next semester. We are trying to get creative in different avenues of what we can do more that sometimes may not require a staff member.”

Weiss said she hopes that students will be more willing to reach out to her with issues they have with CulinArt and suggestions for things they would like to see in the future.

“We’ve constantly tried to have a dining committee but no one wants to show interest,” Weiss said. “Any feedback, recommendations, and things students want to see I try to make happen … obviously within reason. If you tell me you want a Taco Bell in here, I wouldn’t be able to do that. But if it’s something within reason that I can do, I just need feedback.”