Hospitality Services staff members at the University of Guelph Centre 6 cafeteria.
(l-r) Kathy Ware, Colleen Willliams and Lori Martyk.

The next time you visit Centre 6, the cafeteria in the University Centre, you’ll probably be served by one of three cashiers:  Kathy Ware, Lori Martyk or Colleen Williams. They’re often the first people students, staff and faculty meet when they grab a coffee or a bite to eat on their way to work or class. Together, the three women have almost 50 years of experience working in Hospitality Services at
U of G.

Not only do they work together, but they also live in the same neighbourhood just south of campus. Each of them started working at U of G because they had young children and working part-time allowed them to be home by the time their kids finished school.  “You have summers off, so it’s even better, especially if you do a lot of travelling,” says Williams.

They also enjoy chatting with customers, who range from first-year students to professors. “Sometimes students get involved in our conversations,” says Ware. Is that a problem? “It depends on when they walk into it,” says Martyk with a laugh.

When they’re not busy serving customers, you might overhear them talking about one of their favourite topics: purses. “There was this one gentleman who was always walking into our conversations about purses and stuff like that,” says Williams. “We always had good conversations with him when he’d come down for coffee. It made his day, he said.”

Over the years, the women have developed a rapport with their customers. “We all have our regulars,” says Ware. “I have some who only come to me,” but she jokingly puts up her “closed” sign and walks away when she sees some of her favourite customers. “I’m terrible with regulars only,” she says, adding that she once “banned” a customer from Centre 6.

“I’ve been here a long time,” says Ware, and her seniority appears to give her comedic licence with customers. Of the three, she’s the longest-serving staff member in Hospitality Services, with 26 years of experience that began with selling burgers. “Some of the profs have been here forever, too. I have a little rapport with some of them.”

Although most customers are friendly, the women have had some bad experiences. “I’ve had pop thrown at me,” says Martyk. Ware recalls a customer who was “very vocal” and swore at her all the way up the ramp that leads to Centre 6. The women try not to take these incidents personally because they know some people might be having a bad day or they’re in a rush to get to work or class on time.

How do they deal with the pressure of having a constant stream of students, staff and faculty waiting in line? “You focus on the person who’s in front of you,” says Martyk. And they never forget to laugh.