Virginia Tech's motto reads “Ut Prosim” meaning “That I May Serve” and most of the newly admitted students, myself included, get the opportunity to take up this motto a bit too literally – by joining one of the Food Courts on campus! Virginia Tech consistently bagged the “Best On-Campus Food among all US Universities” award over the last five years, thanks to four huge Food Courts serving a wide variety of cuisines and employing over 700 students at any given time. This made sure the poor unfunded graduate students (like me) got at least some job (read: money!) As I complete one month as Food Service Technician at Owens Food Court, I would like to share some observations and experiences encountered during my first “job” ever.
The most memorable moment was undoubtedly the very first minute I started my job- I was assigned the duty of serving food at Carvery – the American meal outlet at Owens. The very first customer came and demanded Scrambled Eggs. Just as I was about to put some of them into a dish, he stopped me and said, “No. I want To Go.” I wondered- “if you want to go, just get moving. Why are you telling me?”. It was then that my Manager came in and explained that “To Go” means he wants the food in a styrofoam box to take away (parcel!). New Land. New Vocabulary!
Over a period I have noticed that the Americans have some strange food habits- the most common being pretending to be health conscious. They will order, for example, Double Cheese Burger and DIET Coke! Come on, what's the point! Similarly, in an attempt to eat “healthy”, they eat a lot (and I mean a LOT) of raw lettuce and spinach and because it is so tasteless (even by their standards), they will add a dozen different fat-rich dressings like Ranch, Thousand Island, Golden Italian and what not! But what freaked me out the most is the dining schedule of the Americans – my Food Court serves Lunch only from 11am to 1pm and believe it or not, dinner time is 5pm-8pm! I used to have my evening snacks around that time back home!
One thing that I really appreciate about my job is Dignity of Labor and Equality- nobody behaves like a “boss” nor are we at any point of time made to think that we are “waiters” or “cleaners”. At busy times, even the General Manager cleans the tables along with students at Customer Service and nobody is singled out to do “dirty” job like taking out the trash. The work environment is very casual and the Managers make it a point to appreciate every single small job well done by the student employees.
While the work of serving food, cleaning tables or collecting dishes and washing them doesn't seem interesting at first, the perks of working at Dining Centers are many- first and foremost- the Meal Coupons! Every shift I work gives me one meal coupon which entitles me to unlimited free food the next day at D2 (VT's biggest multi-cuisine Food Court serving everything from American to Italian to Mexican to Chinese and Mediterranean). Apart from that, while at work, I am allowed to have as many glasses of cold-drinks as I want from the Fountain as long as I don't ignore my work for that. And then there are other perks- getting to know a lot of fellow students and of course, the biggest motivating factor for any guy to work at the Food Courts is the crowd! There is plenty of “bird-watching” opportunity and call it my luck that most of the days I work at either the Organic food shop or Salad bar- two places which are frequented by a LOT of beautiful American girls! Moreover, the girls here (especially the undergrads) smile a lot (some of them clearly fake it) but every evening, invariably I come across atleast a couple of customers (female of course!) who give an aww-so-sweet genuine smile before leaving the counter and that makes you feel that the effort you do is worth it!
From collecting and washing a thousand dishes in one evening to re-filling 66 different salad items continuously, I have done it all, and how much am I paid for it? Well, I will put it this way- my 14 hours of work at Owen's (after conversion to Indian rupees) is paying me more than the salary Wipro had offered me during campus placement last year!