It’s Wednesday evening at Summerfields, and over the buzz of the crowd a single voice roars.
The yeller, a spritely student in skinny jeans, calls out as a to-go container of salad is plopped onto the food counter. Soon after, a plate of chicken tenders emerges. He consults the paper tab rested against the plate, and a mischievous smile creeps across his face. “Six-teh niiiiine,” he finally calls out, rotating his hips in wide circles. He cracks up, and on the other side of the counter, the assembly line of full-time Summerfields workers laughs along with him.
Calling out order numbers for pickup may seem fairly tedious, but the student workers at Summerfields get quite a kick out of it. Three students at a time work at Summerfields during any given lunch or dinner shift, and they usually rotate tasks to avoid monotony. Employees generally consider number-calling the most desirable among the jobs, which include wiping down tables and cutting desserts.
At the beginning of the semester, Kate Davis ’16 started working during Friday lunch and Saturday dinner shifts at Summerfields as a way of earning some extra spending money. She found that calling order numbers was a surprisingly social job because it connects her with people she doesn’t get a chance to see as much as she would like to. Sometimes, she even modifies the order-calling protocol to give the experience a personal touch.
“It allows me to interact with them a little bit, say, ‘Hi,’ maybe call their name instead of their number to make them feel special,” Davis said.
The job is conducive not only to strengthening preexisting bonds but also to forming new friendships. Ari Markowitz ’17 uses the position to expand his social circle and showcase his personality.
“It’s the best job,” he said. “It’s the most exciting. You can talk to cute girls, you can make friends with huge lacrosse players. You just make more friends and [get to] be sassy.”
The connections forged between diners and number-callers extend beyond the walls of Summerfields. Davis and Markowitz both receive recognition from students outside of the campus eatery. Markowitz has even received compliments on his number-calling skills.
“People walk up to me like, ‘Oh, it’s the Summies guy! You kill it,’” he said.
Of course, it’s not always hugs and smiles at Summerfields. The cafeteria often gets crowded on weeknights, which can make order numbers difficult to hear. This sometimes creates tension between callers and diners. After Markowitz has called a number several times in a row, for example, he likes to playfully threaten to eat the number holder’s meal. Sometimes, he even pretends to get angry. Often, the diner is unaware that Markowitz is only joking and apologizes for not showing up sooner.
Noah Gup ’16 found himself in an even more awkward situation when a diner recently placed an order and then went upstairs for an extended period of time. Gup was frustrated when the diner finally picked up his meal after his number had been called for a full half hour.
Gup explained that in general, though, the job has been a positive experience for him. He began working at Summerfields last year because it was convenient for the Butterfield C resident. At first, he was anxious about taking on the authoritative role of number-caller, especially as a freshman. Ultimately, though, he viewed it as empowering and formed bonds with his coworkers. He held no reservations about reprising his role at Summerfields this year.
“You get sucked into it. You get to know how it works, and the people who work there are all really nice,” he said. “It’s a really nice environment to work at, so I’m happy to keep doing it.”
Gup also appreciates the emotional release that the job provides. Once he falls into a rhythm of calling numbers, he becomes extremely calm and forgets his troubles.
“It’s kind of cathartic in a really cool way,” he said. “After I’ve been calling it for a while, I just feel really relaxed. Once you’re literally yelling as loud as you can, everything else is pretty relaxed. It almost gets rid of all that angst or excitement that you might have, and you’ll be calm and focused for the rest of the day.”
That said, one major drawback of the job for Gup is that it sometimes leaves him with a sore throat and hoarse voice. To cope, he makes sure to stay hydrated throughout his shift and allots number calling to other workers when he doesn’t feel up to it.
Vocally, the job has had the opposite effect on Davis, who, as a coxswain on the Wesleyan crew team, spends much of her time shouting. Davis noted that calling numbers at Summerfields may be good practice for her coxing work and believes it may have even fortified her vocal cords.
“I’m not really sure if your vocal cords work that way the more you use them,” she said. “Hopefully, they might have just been getting stronger. I haven’t lost my voice yet.”
Benefits aside, Davis wonders whether, in a high-technology age, the Summerfields ordering system is as efficient as it could be. Particularly, she has noticed that students have trouble holding onto their receipts and suggested that they be replaced with a digital alternative.
Markowitz expressed similar sentiments and proposed that the eatery use either handheld buzzers or a flashing light to indicate that an order is ready. But he believes that Summerfields has retained its relatively outdated ordering system because it creates an extra job for a student employee that a machine would otherwise replace.
“People need work-study,” Markowitz said. “It’s part of them trying to get as many job opportunities on campus as possible. They want at least three workers to be allowed to work at a time.”
Gup, too, concurred that an electronic method of announcing orders would be more effective. Still, he would object to the eatery upgrading to a more advanced system, or even getting a loudspeaker system like the one used at WesWings. After all, he considers number callers to be pivotal in creating the distinctive environment of Summerfields.
“It adds personality to the experience,” he said. “Depending on who the number caller is, you have a different Summerfields experience. I think it makes it kind of fun and kind of goofy in a way that an electronic system couldn’t. It would be less personal.”