On-campus dining involves new safety precautions for workers and students

Elisa Xu | Contributing Reporter

Dining on campus this semester looks quite different than it did before COVID-19. While all dining areas except for the law cafe are open and running, many have reduced hours. Most items are packaged in to-go containers for students to grab and go, and all of the dining areas have reduced indoor seating.

Morad Suliman | Student Life

Any customization comes from mobile ordering, where students can pre-order their meals on their phones and pick up a customized meal.

The process of getting food has been altered to fit social distancing guidelines as well.

“You come in and you have the concierge greeting you,” Travis Bernard, a chef at the Bear’s Den (BD) said. “They only let about 15 people in at a time. Everyone in the line has to stay six feet apart. You go through the line, you pick what you want and if you pick what you want at the beginning of the line, you get to hop out of the line and go to the cashier to check out. But if you don’t see what you want once you get to the end of the line, then you have to go all the way back around.”

When asked about the reasoning behind these changes, Associate Director of Dining Andrew Watling emphasized the importance of safety.

“Obviously the quality of the food and the service are extremely important to us, but we’re not going to put those over creating a safe dining experience,” Watling said. “We worked with the medical experts on campus to set this up, as well as the workers in the facilities to get this put into place.”

Besides the social distancing requirements and the pre-prepared meals, the dining administration has also taken measures to make sure workers are safe when handling food. These measures include self-screening for symptoms, temperature checks, mask mandates, increased handwashing and working in smaller groups to prevent the potential spread of COVID-19.

“Before we came back, we had an orientation where we had to watch videos about COVID-19, about how to keep yourself safe and how to wash your hands,” Bernard said. “They gave us all the tools and protocols to be safe and stay safe. We also get our temperatures checked and have to answer a couple of questions on the clock-in monitor before we clock in.”

Despite all of the safety precautions in place, there are far fewer students eating at the dining halls than the dining administration expected.

“We’re serving about 5,500-5,700 student meals per day, which is down from 13,000-14,000 per day in a normal semester,” said Watling.

Senior Qiqi Chen said that the social aspect of dining on campus has significantly changed compared to previous years.

“There’s a lot fewer people on campus, since some people have stayed home and some people are completely online and off-campus with their classes,” Chen said. “I think you just have fewer friends with you on campus during lunch time. In previous years, a lot of the time when you’re eating lunch, you’re eating with your friends. Right now, it seems more likely that you’re eating by yourself.”

The plastic barriers in place at various dining locations do allow for between 2-4 students to sit at a table together, though students sitting at these tables have greatly decreased in number from past years.

“I do think [the screen separating the table] has a non-trivial effect on the conversation flow,” Chen said. “You feel like you’re more separated.”

While she stated that she personally prefers eating outside compared to inside the dining hall due to the airflow, Chen observed that the frequent cleaning of the plastic screens and tables by workers seemed to make eating inside perfectly safe as well.

“I just really want to give a shout-out to anyone working at the dining halls right now,” Chen said. “It seems like they’re really doing their job by keeping the tables clean and keeping students comfortable dining inside, and also providing a space for students to socialize safely even though we’re all living through this pandemic.”

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