University News

Dining Services employee reflects on 13 years at University

Stone reacts to administrative changes following Bon Appétit’s new partnership with U.

Senior Staff Writer
Thursday, October 5, 2017

The drip of the coffee machine and grumbles from the kitchen complement the pitch of CNN’s Chris Cuomo. A lone student waits for his omelette, and a pair of friends eat in silence at a table nearby. Tanissa Stone emerges from behind the pizza bar with gleaming pearl earrings and a smile that stretches between them.

Her energy might have to do with the fact that it’s break time. It is 8 a.m. and after an hour and a half of work, Stone is getting ready to enjoy her first 30-minute rest with a fried egg sandwich and a bowl of watermelon.

“The first 10 years here, I loved it,” Stone said. “I used to hate it when work ended. But it’s different now. Jobs weren’t as hard back then.”

In the 13 years that Stone has worked as a Food Service Worker in the Ratty, this past year has been the most taxing, she said. She started feeling more stressed and pressured under time at work after the University began contracting with the Bon Appétit Management Company in September 2016, she said.

The partnership developed with an interest to provide new and fresh menu options that would focus on from-scratch cooking techniques, The Herald previously reported. But according to dining service workers, the new company has brought on new responsibilities — with little change in compensation.

“The changes are good for students,” Stone said. “You’re paying a lot of money, you should get good things. But on our end, it affects us because it’s double the work. If you want to have these changes that’s cool, but add more workers.”

Under Bon Appétit, Stone and her colleagues are expected to slice four kinds of meat instead of two, staff two salad bars as opposed to one and create an extra two or three pizzas per shift. Employees who work the morning shift have to man each station alone, and in the afternoon, there are two workers per station.

Dining Services management said they see the new partnership as beneficial to employees.

“I would say that one of the benefits of our partnership with Bon Appétit has been opportunities for staff members in Brown Dining Services to expand their skill sets while we continue to enhance food offerings across campus,” wrote Ann Hoffman, director of administration at Dining Services, in an email to The Herald. “The focus on sustainable, fresh ingredients and scratch-cooking have introduced some adjustments for the staff and we are continually refining our approach to make sure we are providing both great food to students and a positive workplace experience for our dining employees.”

Juggling stations

“The pizzas!” Stone exclaimed. “I should have started right away with the pizzas.”

Stone’s friend and colleague Maria Noro agrees that Bon Appétite’s involvement has had drastic effects. The pizza station is now one of the hardest to work.

“We go home exhausted,” Noro said. “They add stuff and not employees, so we have to do double the job.”

It is now 8:49 a.m. and Stone is on pizza duty. She stands behind the pizza bar, flour sprinkled across her once-black apron. By 11 a.m., she is expected to turn 15 round pieces of dough into 15 steaming pizzas in four different flavors.

She begins by kneading her first ball of dough in a bowl of flour before dropping it through a flattening silver machine. She then stretches it meticulously over a Vegalene-covered rack before pushing a spiked roller across the surface to prevent sticking. Knead, drop, stretch, roll, repeat. After the tray beside her is full of well-flattened, stick-resistant pieces of dough, Stone moves to the topping bar. Scoop, spread, sprinkle, repeat. Once the stack of uncooked pizzas looks to her liking, the 732-degree ovens come into play. Open, heat for 90 seconds, remove, repeat — then she slices.

The from-scratch approach to dining service requires Stone to not just serve food but also to act as a chef, she said, adding that her pay does not reflect her new responsibilities.

“Lately since the new changes, we’re cooking — pizza, omelettes, hotdogs, hamburgers, stir fry, pancakes, french toast. The same stuff the cook’s helpers are doing downstairs, we are doing upstairs,” Stone said. “But we are not getting the same pay.”

Though a cook’s helper makes only a dollar an hour more than Stone, “that dollar can go a long way.”

Both Noro and Stone said they had raised concerns with management multiple times at monthly meetings but had not seen any changes.

Looking beyond dining services

Stone has used her compensation from the University to change her life drastically. When Stone was first employed 13 years ago, she was a 20-year-old with an infant living under the roof of an emotionally abusive aunt.

“When I was 11, my mom died so I lived with my aunt,” Stone said. “She treated me bad. I had to find a way to get out of her house.”

Without any education-oriented influences, Stone saw a way out through motherhood. After she dropped out of high school and gave birth to her daughter, Stone was dismayed to find herself strapped and stuck under her aunt’s roof. Stone found inspiration in her older sister and applied to Dining Services. Now, with her daughter acing classes at Esek Hopkins Middle School, Stone is able to reflect on her 13 years at the University.

The health care provided by the University is phenomenal, Stone said. Co-payments are only ten dollars, and her daughter is also covered under the plan. She also gets three and a half weeks of paid vacation and twelve sick days, she added. 

Even the Bon Appétite-inspired changes have not been all bad, Stone said. In fact, the increasingly strenuous work partnered with her increasing age might have been just the kick she needed to go back to school.

“I woke up and said, ‘I am not going to be doing this all my life. I am not. I want to be dressed up in the office, I want to be in that corporate world.’ This helped me out over the years but, now that my daughter is older and can take care of herself, it’s my turn,” Stone said.

After Stone gets off work at 3 p.m., she drives home, prepares dinner for her daughter, then makes the trek to the Community College of Rhode Island three times per week for night classes. She passed her social studies pre-test Wednesday and is taking the official GED pre-test on Friday.

Stone has a goal: In seven years, by the time she is 40, she wants to be settled in a new career.

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