One of the essential spots to visit on a tour of Vassar is the All Campus Dining Center (ACDC), nicknamed the “Deece,” that doubles up as an event rendezvous point as well as the buffet-style cafeteria where students may venture daily for meals. The fare crosses cuisines from various countries in the world, and if that’s not enough variety, students can also stir-fry rice and vegetables with Cajun spices or toast their own grilled pepper jack cheese sandwiches.
On holiday occasions, students are in for a special dinner of chicken, gravy on turkey and even cranberry sauce. And once in a while macaroni and cheese and soft, chewy chocolate chip cookies show up on the menu at the same time.
Most Vassar students have been to ACDC, but only a few have been behind the scenes as student workers. What do these workers do? How much of a role do they play in making cafeteria food?
“Student workers in the Deece are a very important part of making special events a success, such as the monthly birthday cake, monthly local food dinner, specialty tastings and other events,” said Director of Operations Laura Leone. “They might also help out in the bakery, with catering or in the office.”
Students have been working at ACDC since student employment began, according to Leone.
Leone mentioned the close bond that student workers develop with other cafeteria staff: “Over the years, [alumnae/i] student workers often touch base with Campus Dining employees when they return to campus during reunions.”
“There isn’t much of a mystery back there in the belly of the Deece,” says Marya Pasciuto ’16, who works on the catering wait-staff of the Campus Dining employees. “Overall, everyone I’ve worked with has been friendly and I get along particularly well with a few of them. We talk about the school, our families, pretty basic stuff like that. There’s a fair amount of joking around during shifts, and in my experience the atmosphere among the workers has been more pleasant than my kitchen job back at home.”
Sarah King ’16 worked as a barista at the UPC Cafe, just two flights of stairs above ACDC, and this year she is on the catering wait-staff for ACDC. Coming into the job, she expected more opportunities for cooking and food preparation, but, she said, “[It is] mostly it is set up, serving, busing tables, and closing down events.”
“I think the Deece and my role with it is pretty misunderstood. My friends half-jokingly ask me all the time to go in there and make changes with the food: cook the chicken longer, serve more macaroni and cheese […]” said Pascuito.
Compared to her work at the UPC, King said that her former job was a lot more fun because she got to make a variety of drinks and design her own for holidays. Yet, the hours were more brutal than a job at ACDC. King said she is inquiring with Campus Dining about permission to become more involved with hands-on cooking.
Pasciuto compared her job as an ACDC caterer to her previous experience working in a nursing home kitchen and as a caterer at a gold clubhouse during high school.
“For the most part, my Vassar job is the best of both worlds—I get to choose my hours like a caterer, but I make a set hourly wage,” said Pasciuto.
Hours for ACDC workers and caterers can vary from week to week. Tim Behan ’15 also worked as a caterer at ACDC and spoke about his experience with setting his hours.
“The amount of hours I worked varied a lot from week to week,” wrote Behan in an emailed statement. “There was a big bulletin board full of jobs to sign up for. My boss would post an email when new jobs were on the board and you would sign your name on a piece of paper on the board. It worked on a first-come, first-served basis so I usually worked less than 8 hours a week.
During an average four-hour shift at ACDC, Pasciuto said she is placed wherever extra staff are needed, or at special station, such as birthday cake or ice cream. She gets a 15-minute break for dinner.
In contrast, a four-hour catering shift involves loading up food and drinks into a van, setting up for an hour, watching over the event until it ends, handing out food or staying behind the scenes depending on the event’s style and cleaning up.
Behan concurred about the physical labor required for the position.
“When catering events on campus, we would have to load up a lot of food in heavy warming containers into a van, then unload it, then reload all the leftovers and the equipment back into the van, and finally unload it one more time back at the deece. It was definitely a workout!” wrote Behan.
He went on to say that despite the heavy lifting required, the work was rewarding overall.
“I learned a lot about how a kitchen run and the amount of planning that goes into seemingly simple events,” he wrote. “I don’t plan to continue in this field, but it was definitely was a worthwhile experience to have had.”
To the critiques that people make of the ACDC—bland food, quality left to be desired—Pasciuto said, “I’m sure we’ve all heard people complaining about the food, and most of us have done it ourselves. Having received plenty of undercooked chicken in my time at Vassar, I’m certainly no exception, but I try to remember and remind people how hard it is to consistently serve thousands of meals every day, and that there are real people putting in hard work so that we can have our chicken [parmesan] and portobello sandwiches.”
ACDC staff are often unacknowledged and even ignored through the dinnertime and lunchtime rushes.
“When I first started working in the stations at the Deece, I was astonished at how few people so much as looked at the people serving their food. People in my fellow group, friends from my classes…practically no one even noticed that I was there,” said Pascuito.
She continued, “Since then, I’ve made sure to make eye contact with everyone who gives me my food, and to thank them. It’s a really small thing to do that makes such a difference for the staff.”