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Students appreciate card swipers

SARA FELSENSTEIN | Friday, February 26, 2010

 If you’ve ever been to South Dining Hall on “wing night,” John Ritschard will be sure to greet you at the door with his dancing chicken and a friendly reminder that delicious wings wait inside.  

Ritschard, who swipes cards during dinner, said he spotted the dancing chicken at a garage sale and just knew it would be perfect.  

“At the last wing night [John] had a stand in front of his card swiping station so that his dancing chicken could have more room to move,” sophomore Theresa Hall said.  

Ritschard will also make sure to let students know when the dining hall serves steak fries or the coveted hot apple crisp.  

Ritschard and his wife Lila swipe ID cards together on the right side of South Dining Hall three nights a week. Both said they just enjoy talking to students and hearing how their days have been.  

“John and Lila are both always so upbeat and happy to see everyone. John always has compliments and says how glad he is to see you,” sophomore Christina Carson said. “If you ask him how he is, he sometimes replies with ‘I’m as fine a frog’s hair’ or ‘I’m as fine as the hair on a flea.'”  

Hall also appreciates the enthusiasm the Ritschards bring to the job.

“John is always commenting on how he and his wife are glad we could make it or that it’s a pleasure having us at the dining hall,” Hall said. “He lets people know if there’s something good at the home style or carving station. He is always telling people what he recommends they try that night.”  

John and Lila Ritschard do their best to reach out to students beyond casual conversation. They brought several students home for Thanksgiving dinner last November and gave out miniature candy canes at the last meal before winter break. They also offer candy bars on students’ birthdays.   

“We check for birthdays on students’ ID cards,” Lila said. “If it’s their birthday, we give them a candy bar. Usually they’re surprised and don’t know how we knew it was their birthday. It’s a simple little thing we do, but it’s nice because they’re far away from home.”

Ada Bradley also swipes cards at South Dining Hall during dinner. She has been working on the Notre Dame campus for 20 years. She was first involved with the catering services and then did some bartending before she began swiping cards at South Dining Hall. 

“The students keep us young,” Bradley said. “I’m still in touch with some graduated students.”  

Bradley said she always tries to raise students’ spirits if they seem tired or overwhelmed with schoolwork.   

“[Students] are down sometimes and you have to build them up. I always tell them better times are coming,” Bradley said. “I saw a girl crying once and I told her ‘If this is over a fella, he’s not worth it.'”  

South Dining Hall may have that traditional collegiate atmosphere, but North Dining Hall has multiple levels and more open space. But which dining hall has the friendlier card swipers greeting students each day? Now that’s an impossible call.

Charlotte Lootens works three days a week at North Dining Hall during both breakfast and lunch, and has worked for Notre Dame Food Services for almost 28 years. For 15 years she worked inside the dining hall, serving hot food and manning the salad bar. She has been swiping cards for the last 13 years.

“I like just talking to students,” Lootens said. “I enjoy the students and everything about this job.”  

Lootens usually works during lunch with her good friend Barbara Varga at North Dining Hall.  

“I just love when [the students] come in,” Varga said. “I speak to every one of them.”  
Varga adds a unique touch to her job by entertaining students with her famous word of the day.  

“Today’s word is ‘cents-iblity’ because I think students should be sensible with their money,” Varga said. “Students will usually ask me what my word of the day is. Sometimes I make up my own, but usually I try to find ones like ‘wonderful,’ ‘amazing’ and ‘fantastic.'”  

Meals are traditionally a time of relaxation and comfort spent with family or friends. But in college, it’s easy to rush through them just like everything else. Many students said they appreciate the positive greetings they receive from card swipers — greetings that remind students to enjoy their meals and forget their stress for a little while.   

“I love how friendly Charlotte [Lootens] is,” sophomore Lauren Ruhling said. “She even checks your ID card to try and remember your name. Being so far away from home, it’s nice to be greeted by a familiar face when I go to relax at the dining hall.”