on the job: greg peters



What is your job and how long have you worked at the UI?

I'm assistant dining services director for housing, snack bars and vending operations. I came here as a student in 1973 and worked my way through school, so I spent my first six years as a student employee.

What does your job entail?

I have to identify the types of menus and associated services the students want and find out if it's feasible to offer them. I set our menus and prices. We are retail operators, like any business, but we're an operation within the UI. And, like any restaurant operation, we have to stay within our budget and offer good service and food to satisfy our customers. Every year we reassess what we did right and what didn't work, and what people are telling us they want. We have to find ways to explain what we're doing. We spend a lot of time meeting with different student groups, especially in the fall semester, who want to find out how food service works, what the university's goals are, and what the restrictions and requirements are [for our department]. For example, the students want to know why we only have one brand of pop in the machines and we have to explain that we do a bid contract and that to keep prices low, this has to be the only brand sold. Every year we go through the same process, and there are some things we can change and some things that can't work within the system.

In the 23 years you've been here, have you seen a change in what and how students eat?

There is a little bit of a trend toward healthier eating. It's not a majority trend, but a vocal trend. We try to do things along those lines. There are also more people who desire vegetarian fare. Twenty years ago, that was unheard of, but so was the variety of things we do now. There were burgers and fries and pizza and that was it. There have been several changes in the industry so there is a lot of food available now for students at the convenience store that wasn't available before in the market; things like single-serving packages of sandwiches, pizzas, lasagna, chicken and noodles, and vegetarian dishes. There is more microwavable food now. Ten years ago you saw a microwave oven in a vending room for heating up a sandwich or maybe a pastry and that was the only setting you saw it in. It's gotten to the point now where people can eat on a daily basis from the microwave. The dining services available now were unheard of 10 years ago. When I was a student here, you had one meal plan, ate at assigned times in assigned cafeterias, take it or leave it. That's just how things were put together at that time. Now you can eat anywhere on campus and if you don't like what's available, or have a schedule conflict, you can use a cash equivalency at one of our retail outlets. If you have special needs or a hankering for one type of food ---- we have specialty food, ethnic food, vegetarian, or light and healthy fare -- we can meet your needs. Food service in general has broadened its scope in the last 20 years. The choices available to students are incredible.

What made you stay here after you finished school at the UI?

I came here not knowing what I wanted to do. I came out of the UI with a bachelor's degree in psychology. But I really enjoy what I do. I can't compare it with other universities. This is the only one I've worked at, but most of the people I've worked with are amazingly professional in their desire to do the job and what they can do for students. There are a variety of challenges in trying to pay attention to the different particulars of the different types of operations. The students keep you on your toes. We employ 150 students on a part-time basis and they are the primary staffing for most of the operations. I have full-time supervisors who work under me to oversee the daily units and full or part-time cashiers, but the bulk [of my employees] are part-time students. Some are work-study and some are just working their way through school, but I enjoy helping them out.

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Comments to: Inside Illinois Editor Doris Dahl, (217) 333-2895, d-dahl2@illinois.edu

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