U of M dining hall worker shortage, students frustrated with food issues

Students at the University of Minnesota say their campus meal plans are expensive, and they feel they’re not getting what they paid for this school year.

"We're paying for 24/7 service. We're not getting it," said Michael Edwards, a freshman student.

Student after student told FOX 9 their campus dining experience isn't what it should be. They said the hours have been cut, the options are limited, and sometimes, the dining halls are running out of certain foods.

"We're actually paying for this stuff. It feels like … I'm wasting my money. I feel like I'm being robbed," said Esther Tibowei, a freshman student.

Freshmen said they're required to have a campus meal plan, but they feel they're not getting their money's worth.

"If you go there during the day like not during set times, there's barely any food. They don't restock the food when it comes out. So you gotta get lucky, honestly, with a good meal," said freshman Zaid Dameh.

University Dining said in a statement it’s facing severe staffing shortages that have affected operations. The statement said University Dining is short 142 employees based on original staffing plans. The university said it is focused on recruiting new employees and hiring students.

The statement read, in part: "We're taking actions to mitigate some of the challenges that have been created by reducing hours or closing some of our retail locations (locations not inside residence halls), as well as reducing hours in some residential dining facilities, to ensure greater service levels for the greatest number of hours in our residential locations. We recognize alternative options may not be the most convenient, but we have always ensured that options exist for all students to access food during service hours. That may mean that a resident has to walk to another dining facility, rather than the one that services their residence."

Campus employees said they feel unappreciated, and they're being told to work harder and longer hours.

"We come there wanting to give the students a good experience," Sara Parcells, a buildings and grounds worker on campus. "There's several vacant positions, and they're bringing in temps that they're paying at higher wages than the current full-time staff."

Students also said one of the dining halls served Lunchables this week.

University Dining explained this in its statement, saying: "those are a retail snack available in a number of our locations, but they are not a meal or meal replacement in residential dining. In this case, the product was nearing the expiration date, and a well-meaning employee placed them out for students to take for free, rather than simply having them expire, but didn’t mark them as such to make it obvious. All the Lunchables had been claimed before a manager arrived to address the situation."