Susan Aiello   

David DiSarro

English 104

23 April 2009



            Those who are apart of Ball State’s meal plan know that for $7.95 you can get all you can eat at the Lafollette buffet. There is a wide variety of food from vegetables, fruit, pasta, desserts, main dishes, drinks, etc. But does anyone know how much hard work it took to prepare that food or keep that environment clean for them to eat? The employees that work at the Lafollette Buffet work very hard just to serve their customers, and there are many stereotypes that are associated with being a food service worker. By exploring the buffet, I hope to help the customers become more aware of what the workers do on a daily basis to develop a greater respect for what the employees do. Exploring this subculture is very important because it will get rid of those stereotypes and myths linked to the buffet.

The Lafollette Buffet:

            My subculture is a very diverse group. Not only are there employees of different ages, but different sex and race as well. This group of people work together to help prepare, clean, cook, and cut food for Ball State students. There are over 125 student employees that work for Lafollette Dining alone. As an employee, there are certain rules, rituals and behaviors that must be followed. For example, when it comes to apparel, employees must follow a certain dress code. They are suppose to wear a red shirt (which employers provide), black shoes, black pants and a hair net. Also, a name tag must be work at all times. Keeping the buffet clean at all times is a ritual that is performed everyday. At the buffet it is all about the customers and behavior is very important. Staying on task and getting the job is essential. To become a student employee, it is required that you go to a training session, which lasts about two hours. Basically, you go over the employee’s manual and learn the different sanitation procedures. If you work at the cash register, it is required that you take and pass a cashier’s class. Training required depends on what position you are applying for.

From the Beginning:

            I started working for Lafollette dining at the beginning of second semester. To be honest, I wasn’t planning on working for any of the dining halls here at Ball State. It was really my last resort if I couldn’t find a job elsewhere. Sure enough, after many failed attempts to obtain another job, Lafollette dining was all that was left, so I took the job. I have not regretted working for Lafollette dining because it truly has been a great job. I got to pick my own hours and on top of that dining service employees get paid more than any other job on campus. Also, I have met so many great people. It definitely makes it easier for me to interview the employees because I know them on a more personal level. Ever since I started working there, I have been able to find out more information behind the scenes of the different rules, rituals and behaviors then I would have otherwise as an outsider. Another reason why I chose this subculture is because of it being so close to where I live. Having the Buffet being right downstairs from my room makes it that much easier to get to and observe. On top of that, I can get dinner while I am there.

            Also, I have no fixed positions that would affect me being there, so that is another reason why I chose this site. If I were to have chosen to explore the Ball State’s football team, I would have had some fixed positions. One factor would have been my gender. Being a female and observing an all male team and staff would have prohibited me from certain areas and it would have been more difficult for me to relate. However, at the buffet none of my fixed positions would affect the employees because everyone there is of a different age, race and gender. I know there is part- time college students who work there, elderly women and males, middle-aged women and males, and on top of that their all of different ethnicities.

            The purpose of my research is to inform others on my subculture and to know what it is like to be apart of the subculture. I want to give my reader’s an idea of the pros and cons many of the employees face within the subculture and what they do on a daily basis. More specifically, I want my readers to know that within the Buffet each room is divided by walls, so it separates one room from the other. Depending on where you are working you are constantly competing with the other rooms. Everyone within their area is friends with one another, but when outside of their room it is a whole different story. As I began to talk with some of the workers I questioned them about their job and they went into greater detail and talked about other workers from the other areas and how they weren’t doing their job. This showed me how divided they really are and how the layout of the Buffet really puts a barrier between each group of employees. Within the Buffet, it is sectioned off so that the supervisor’s offices are all together right when you walk in overlooking the Buffet. Inside the Buffet is where the chefs, bakers, food preparation workers, washers, and custodians all work. Then you have the servers, cashiers, and pasta bar workers who work outside of the buffet. As you can see, there is a dividing line between many of the employees and it is important to know that between the workers, it is a competition and depending on which area you work in explains for certain behaviors and rituals that are performed.


            All together from my research, observations, reflections and interviews, I hope the community develops a better understanding of what goes on within the dining halls and eventually venture out and try some of the different dining services on campus. Not only venture out and try the different food, but maybe develop an interest in working at one of the dining facilities here on campus. I also hope that all the stereotypes and misconceptions that people have will no longer exist and that they will be able to see a different side of Ball State dining that they didn’t know before. I know many people believe that the Buffet isn’t healthy or sanitary and that some of the employees aren’t friendly.

            In addition, I hope that with all my information going on the web, the community will be able to utilize my site and research to help them with a similar project. Throughout the research process I struggled to find academic sources and my site will definitely help those who need more information. At first, it seemed like the more I researched the farther away I got from my original search. Part of the reason why I got so frustrated with not finding any information was because my topic was so narrow. Once broadening my topic, I was able to obtain more information.

How I Fit In:

            At the beginning of second semester, I was looking at my subculture from an outsider’s point of view. I had many stereotypes and preconceptions towards Lafollette dining. I rarely went to the buffet because I didn’t care for the food and I believed it to be a dirty environment. When I went there for dinner my food was cold, and it reminded me of the cafeteria food I had in middle school, which in fact, never made me want to buy lunch at school again. I assumed that the employers didn’t care about the customers and that they were there to get their pay check every week and that was all that mattered. But once I actually started working at the Buffet, I came to see the Buffet from a different perspective. I started to go to the buffet more to eat because I became more aware of what goes on and that it is cleaner than what I thought it was. Also, there is a wide variety of food to eat, unlike the other food places in Lafollette that have the same exact food everyday. Once, I started working at the Buffet, I found the more I worked the more I became part of the subculture. Most recently, I have been able to develop personal relationships with most of the employees and have developed a good idea of how things work. I came to this understanding not only from working there, but also from the interviews I have conducted with some of the employees, surveys that I have sent out, and many of observations.

It All Starts With a Research Question:

             Ever since the beginning of my research process, I have been geared towards getting rid of the stereotypes associated with the Americans Buffet in Lafollette. As I conducted more interviews and observations, I began to notice that within the subculture there are physical barriers between the employees. Not just between student and non-student employees, but between non-student and non-student employees as well. This led to my research question, which is what goes on behind the scenes that outsiders are not aware of and how do physical barriers affect not only the relationships amongst employees, but their rules, rituals and behaviors?

Research Process:

            When I first began my research, I had a hard time finding academic research because my topic was so narrow. I was trying to find information regarding Ball State dining, which did not bring up any information. Eventually, I broadened my topic to campus dining and researched different topics within that topic such as food preparation workers, chefs, dining halls, health violations, etc. After finding all of my sources, I have found a connection between some of my academic and nonacademic sources.

            I found many academic sources that helped me to describe my subculture, but also that help explain how physical barriers affect the relationships of the employees and their behaviors and rituals as well. The Buffet is very diverse and there are many cultural differences amongst the employees such as race, gender, age, etc. An article I read, “West Virginia U. dining halls teach student workers life lessons,”focused on the employees and their reasons for working in the dining halls. I have found through my surveys that many students at the Buffet who are currently working there said that they are working in Lafollette because of its convenience and location and it is the same reason at the WVU (Cunningham, 1). It is also a great way to meet a diverse group of people as well, which I know many of the students here on campus have developed several friendships just by working at Lafollette.

            An article from the Daily Newspaper, “Ball State U. dining services give 75-cent raise to employees,” talked about how the number of students working in the food dining industry has significantly increased since the year before and this was due to the seventy-five cent raise given to dining hall workers. Currently, student employees make $7.05 compared to non-student employees who make up to as much as $12.30 an hour (Khouli, 1). So in the end, Ball State Dining is saving money because the more students being hired means there is less of a need for non-student employees. They are getting more for their money. This brings me to the debate of student versus non-student employees. It just shows how diverse it is within campus dining halls and how age plays an important role.

            At the University of Maryland, the Residence Hall Association was trying to encourage Dining Services to hire more student employees and give them priority over non-student employees. Dining Services told them if they did have enough student employees, they would eliminate the non-student employees (Truant, 2004). I liked this article because it directly relates to my subculture and the employees within the Buffet. If student employees were to take over, many non-student employees would lose their jobs, but at the same time it would save the University money once again. After talking with one of my informants, who is a non-student employee, she suggested that there is some envy towards some of the student workers. Also, since many of non-student workers have been working at the Buffet longer, they feel like they have more of an authority over the students and that is the reason why they tend to treat student employees unfairly. This explains the barriers that the employees face within my subculture.

Imformants I Have Come to Know:

            I conducted an interview with Renee DeVoe. Renee works as a cashier at the Lafollette Buffet. When I asked Renee if I could interview her she was really hesitant. She told me she was nervous and asked me if the questions I was going to interview her were going to be hard. After reassuring her that the questions weren’t going to be hard, I found out that she started working at the Buffet in November of 2007. She has one daughter and her daughter is currently a freshman enrolled here at Ball State. It was because of her daughter why she started working here. Being an employee, Ball State gives money towards her daughter’s tuition, which is very helpful for her. After passing the cashiers class, Renee got to choose which dining services she wanted to work for, so she chose Lafollette Buffet because she knew someone who worked there already. Renee helped me get a different perspective. Being a cashier, she is involved more with the students and not so much the employees. As an employee, Renee faces with the struggle of students stealing. She hates doing it, yet she has to watch them to make sure they don’t steal. I didn’t get as much information as I wanted to from Renee because of the fact she was nervous and I could sense that she wasn’t one for interviews.

            Next, I interviewed my manager, Edward Landreth. This interview was a little different because my interview with him was through email because of how busy he is and I figured that it would be easier for him. Also, I knew he checks his email constantly, so I knew he would get back to me in a timely fashion, which he did. Ed has been working at Ball State for about five years now. Ed used to be an assistant store manager at McDonald’s down in Evansville before he started working in Muncie. He came to Ball State because of his wife who was attending Ball State at the time. His main reason for working at the Buffet was because of its benefits. Ball State pays for 100% of his college tuition and 80% of his spouse or child’s tuition. My interview with Ed was very beneficial. It helped me to understand him more on a personal level, but also to help learn more about what he does on a daily basis. I not only got another insider’s point of view, but from a different angle. I now know more from the managing side of things. Doing the interview online was to my disadvantage because I wasn’t able to capture his nonverbal communication which I believe is important in an interview.

            Every Monday night, from four to eight, I am scheduled to work at America’s Buffet in Lafollette. On Mondays, I am in charge of the appearance of the Buffet. I make sure that the salad bar is clean, as well as, all the tables. The good thing about my job is that it is very laid back. When it is not busy, I am able to converse and observe other employees and customers. March 30, was one of those nights. The Buffet was very empty with only a few students eating. I took advantage of the situation and started talking to one of my co-workers, Brena. Soon after I started working, Renee started working in the mornings instead of at night, so Brena became the new cashier. Brena has been working for Ball State for two years now, but has only worked for the Buffet for about two months. I didn’t plan on interviewing Brena. It just kind of happened. We were both working together one night and I started asking her questions about how she became a cashier and what she likes and dislikes about working at the Buffet. Just to give you some background about Brena, she is someone who loves to talk and talk. She is so outgoing and if you need any information about anyone or what is going on, you go to her. After talking with Brena for a period of time, I didn’t have to ask as many questions because she just kept going. I could sense that she enjoyed our conversation because she started focusing her attention more on me rather than the customers coming in. When we got on the topic of student workers and non-student workers, she commented that non-student employees “treat students like crap.” She also mentioned that most employees have been working at the Buffet for many years, which makes them feel like they can have authority over others. Brena also said how hard it is to get a job in Lafollette as a non-student employee because they are starting to rely more on student employees. My research has shown that there has been an increase in student employees here at Ball State and one of those reasons is because of the increase in pay. Working for dining services pays more than any other job on campus.

My Story:

            Over the course of time, I was able to pick up a lot of information through just observation. I didn’t observe as much as I should have as an outsider, but I was able to observe as an insider. I work every Monday, Tuesday and Thursdays. On Mondays, I work from four to eight at night and I make sure that the “pasta bar” is clean and all the tables are clean. Tuesdays, I work from four to seven at night and I work in “veggie prep.” When I work in veggie prep, I am in charge of cutting vegetables and washing fruit. Lastly, on Thursdays, I am an “extra” from four to eight, so wherever there is a need for someone I go. Mostly, I am put in the “dish room”. The point of telling you where I work is to show you that each night I am working in a different area of the buffet. Being moved around throughout the Buffet has showed me how separated all the employees are. When I first started working, most of the employees had been working there for quite some time, so they had a good idea how everything was ran. I, on the other hand, had no idea what I was supposed to do. I felt like I was just wondering around acting like I knew what was going on. Having to adapt so quickly, after about a week I knew where everything was and what to do, etc. The more I worked the more I started to pick up on tips of how to do certain things. For example, when it is time to clean up the salad bar, I have to go and clean my dishes five minutes earlier or else I will be behind schedule.

            When I first started working with Renee, she was very strict. She like the tables and pasta bar clean at all times and I had to stay on top of it. I liked to stay busy and make sure everything was clean at all times, so Renee and I got along very well. After Renee left, everything changed. Brena took over for Renee and Brena is definitely more laid back. She would rather talk to you then have you clean. She is good friends with Candice, whom I work with for veggie prep. Candice has been working at the Buffet for who knows how long. Candice knows the way to do things and she often takes advantage of Brena and me. At the time I first started working, Candice was very helpful and would tell me what I was suppose to do and not to do. Little did I know, she was telling me things to do that were her job. When Renee was working, she picked up on how Candice was taking advantage of mean and she would not allow me to do her work, but ever since she left, I was back to doing Candice’s work as well as my own. This allowed Candice to not have any work to do, it allowed her to take a longer break and get out of work earlier than usual. I was and still am being taken advantage of. I am a prime example of how non-student employees feel like they have authority over student employees.

What I Have Learned:

Coming to an End:

            Before I started this mini-ethnography I knew it was going to be a challenge for me because when I observe I tend to only use my vision. Now, after having gone through the whole process, I have developed not only as an observer, but a researcher and reader as well. I have learned from field working that in order to observe you have to go beyond what you see. You have to use the rest of the five senses: touch, smell, taste and hearing in order to fully understand what is going on. Also, with taking observations it is beneficial to come into the habit of reflecting with what was being observed and what was being felt. From observing and interviewing, I was forced to step outside of my box. It helped me to develop my own questions, thoughts, etc. When it comes to researching, I was afraid that I was going to have a hard time finding information, which I did, but in the end I look back at all of the sources I have gathered over time and realize that it might require you to broaden or narrow your search to find the information you need. It won’t necessarily be your exact topic that you will search. Otherwise, I enjoyed researching and learning new things. I use the computer a lot when I researched, which isn’t necessarily a good thing because some things on the Internet aren’t true, but using the Library databases were very reliable sources.

            Doing this ethnography was definitely a challenge for me which I expected. It has allowed me to step outside of my box.  In the past, most of the pieces I have written exclude using first person and this pieced allowed me to write more of a mixture between my own reflections and observations, as well as some outside academic research. For me, doing this mini-ethnography was a long and grueling process. It required lots of time, organizing, observing, reflecting and researching, but I must say that all of the time and effort paid off because I have learned so much not only about my field site, but about field working as well.