By Lee Ying Hsuan
Madam Christine, manager of the Dining Hall, never dwells at one spot for long. One can always see her bustling around, clipboard in hand – brisk and serious, sometimes even intimidating.
However, when I asked if she would be willing to share her experience working in the Dining Hall, her responding smile exuded welcoming warmth.
Madam Christine is a veteran when it comes to monitoring the ins and outs of the Dining Hall operations. She has worked in the Dining Hall for eight years – initially as a part-time staff, but now a manager.
Of course, as the manager, Madam Christine has a lot more work to do.
The regular staff work at the frontline, replenishing trays of food at each stall and serving food to the students.
Tasked with coordinating the frontline operations, Madam Christine oversees all the food stalls, and occasionally helps to serve food when there is a surge of students.
Besides making sure that the Dining Hall service is efficient, she has to assist the kitchen as well. She ensures the hygiene of the place, calls the caterer to check on the food supply, and communicates with the chefs.
With these overwhelming job responsibilities, Madam Christine usually works longer hours than the regular staff.
Most dining hall staff have four hour shifts. The morning shift starts from 7am to 10.30am, while the night shift is from 5pm to 9.30pm.
Madam Christine has to monitor these two shifts, which means that she often reports the earliest in the morning, and stays late at the end of the day to ensure that everything is in order.
Clearly, her role is no piece of cake. When asked what the most difficult part of the job was, Auntie Christine laughed and joked that everything about managing the dining hall is not easy.
“It’s not like your everyday office job, the work is more demanding.”
Apart from making sure that internal operations run smoothly, she also needs to review and make adjustments based on students’ feedback. The quality of the food is a common concern among students. Some students also expressed that the utensils are not refilled in time. Madam Christine always keeps these feedback in mind, and seeks to address these concerns.
Indeed, with these responsibilities, she admitted that the job can be tiring sometimes. “But you get used to the daily routine,” she added.
And for us residents in Cinnamon College and Tembusu College, eating at the dining hall is often our daily routine. However, we scarcely strike up conversations with the Dining Hall staff.
Madam Christine shared her perspectives about the dynamics between students and staff. She noted that some students may not always appreciate the hard work of the dining hall staff. Complaints are frequent – there were even instances when students made rude comments to the staff.
Despite the few black sheep, Madam Christine also added that most students are generally friendly, and are polite to the staff.
“Sometimes, we would be short-staffed as the kitchen is busy. We are glad that students [understood] our situation and waited patiently.”
She also recalled that a handful of students did take the initiative to talk to her.
“Some students even come back [to look for me] long after they graduated, or when they are no longer living here. Gives me great enjoyment.”
One can clearly see Auntie Christine’s passion and dedication to her job. “I enjoy working for Chartwells very much … and I love all the students here!”
In her spare time, Auntie Christine likes to spend time with her friends and explore places of interest in the evening. However, she confided that she rarely goes out for leisure activities, given her busy schedule.
When prompted on what she wishes to share with the students, Madam Christine reiterated the difficulties of working in the Dining Hall.
“Be more compromising and understand that we work very hard.”
“Praise the staff more, and appreciate what we are doing here,” she said.
She also promised to ensure that students’ Dining Hall experience remains smooth and enjoyable. “Part of our job is to redress problems students raise in the Dining Hall, and we will try our very best to do that.”
Madam Christine concluded our chat with earnest words.
“We cannot always accommodate students’ needs. It’s like five fingers, each have different lengths. We have our own difficulties in catering to the students, and the students may have some understandable needs as well.”
Her message is simple and clear. Us students and the Dining Hall staff have different perspectives, so listening to each other is important.
So the next time we walk into the Dining Hall, ready to enjoy a hearty meal, perhaps a short exchange with the staff, or even just a smile, will suffice as the first step.