by JACK BREWSTER
COVID-19 has caused UMW Vocelli Pizza to experience a lack of employees, among other COVID-related problems.
John Iacunato, owner of the UMW Vocelli Pizza sees the effect COVID-19 has had on his business. “The COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically changed how we do business on the campus of UMW. The impact on the campus is quite evident. We see this happening in all facets of the service industry and as you know the restaurant business has been hit extremely hard by COVID-19 due in part, to people’s dining habits changing along with real concerns about the potential of getting sick,” said Iacunato.
A lack of students living on campus has affected the volume of students Vocellis serves each day.
“Sales at UMW are down over 50 percent from pre-COVID-19 days,” said Iacunato.
Will Mortimore, a senior communication and digital studies major is one of many students who has decreased the amount of time they spend at the pizza place. “When living off-campus, I wouldn’t think of going to Vocellis when the campus is shut down,” said Mortimore. “Really the only time I think of stopping [at Vocelli’s] is when I am on campus and going from class to class. So with no students being on campus, I could imagine they’re having a tough time.”
According to Iacunato, the lack of students on campus has led to a decrease in the available workforce.
“Since the fall semester of 2011 Vocelli Pizza on the UMW campus, our primary workforce has been made up of part-time students and a handful of full-time team members from the local community,” said Iacunato. “In the fall of 2020 and now spring of 2021 the actual number of students on the campus at UMW has decreased significantly, with a greater majority of students taking virtual classes many have chosen to not come onto the campus. This has caused a significant reduction… in the available pool of potential team members we can recruit from the UMW student population.”
Fear of contact with others has also decreased the likelihood of students being willing to work. “This issue, combined with a real concern with all people on campus of becoming ill, has significantly decreased the number of potential team members who are willing to work in any type of restaurant given all the contact with other team members and customers of the restaurant,” said Iacunato.
This deficit in employees is reflected in the recent tweets from the UMW Vocelli Pizza Twitter account, having expressed their interest in hiring new employees four times between Jan. 9 and Feb. 5.
The additional stress of having classes online has contributed to the lack of student employment at Vocelli Pizza.
“Students at UMW are feeling a great deal more stress, given the current situation on campus with virtual learning. Many of our team members who are currently working with us have had to reduce the available hours due to class load. This had had a direct impact on Vocelli Pizza and our ability to recruit new students to join our team, but it has also had an impact on students who were part of our team in the last few semesters from returning to Vocelli Pizza. What we hear most from students who were former team members is the current workload of classes and study is just too much to allow any time for working,” said Iacunato.
As with all other dining services at UMW, Vocelli has implemented new procedures to ensure the safety of both the staff as well as the students they serve.
“You can witness this by the removal of all indoor seating and most of the patio seating. The precautions we have instituted in the campus location with the addition of shields, reductions in our customers being able to serve themselves items, the addition of daily monitoring of all our team members with temperature and health checks and in-store sanitation practices,” said Iacunato.
In order to help streamline serving customers while also maintaining proper safety protocols, Vocelli has become involved with the now-familiar Grubhub service.
“We attempt to focus our efforts on providing the best service we can given the current business environment. A great example of this is Sodexo working with Grubhub to put together an ordering and pick-up option. It has been a very successful program from our perspective, and it allows students to place an order and… pick it up with little or no contact with other students or team members,” said Iacunato.
Iacunato took a moment to acknowledge the work done by the management of UMW Vocelli to keep business afloat during the pandemic.
Meanwhile, fewer students attending campus in person also means fewer students visiting Vocelli.
“I used to go there all the time… especially after labs in Jepson that would get out late,” said Will Hackett, a senior geology major. “It was the easiest thing to get, and the only place open. But now with living off-campus paired with campus being shut down, I haven’t gone since the spring semester of 2020.”