How college dining is coping with COVID-19
With new research showing that the foodservice industry could lose close to $300 billion this year due to the ongoing pandemic, the path toward COVID-19 recovery remains a tenuous one. Against this backdrop, college campuses across the country are bringing back students to campus for fall classes, while some are opting for a hybrid model or virtual only and others still are changing plans in real time.
Demonstrating how quickly things can evolve, just one week into in-person classes, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill announced that it would make a quick switch to virtual learning after the COVID-19 positivity rate at its campus health center rose to 13.6%. Shortly after, the University of Notre Dame suspended its in-person coursework for two weeks after seeing cases increase. To get a sense of how schools are aiming to prevent the spread of COVID-19 on campus, here’s a glimpse at some of the strategies being implemented.
Temporary dining hall
At Tulane University, where foodservice is run by Sodexo, the dining team created a temporary dining hall on its Berger Family Lawn. Diners can gain access via their meal swipes and choose from options provided by food trucks as well as a Chef’s Table venue. This area will have a capacity ceiling of 280, and tables will be set up 6 feet apart to ensure distancing. In-person classes at Tulane will begin on Aug. 19.
Cornell University and the University of Wisconsin at Madison are among the schools relying on restaurant reservation service OpenTable to help them manage the flow of students in and out of campus eateries. Students can use the OpenTable app or website to reserve a table at a set time, and some schools have the option for a waitlist if no seats are available.
At the University of Florida in Gainesville, where fall classes are set to begin on Aug. 31, dining halls will close between meal periods for enhanced cleaning by its Gator Dining Clean Team, which includes the sanitization of tables, chairs, TVs, light fixtures and walls. Full menus will be offered in the dining halls, though all items will be served in takeout packaging. In addition, staff will undergo daily temperature checks and health screenings.
Though seating will be closed at Vanderbilt University dining halls, three outdoor dining tents will be available around campus daily. Seating in the tents is first-come, first-served, and students can scan a QR code that sets them up with a 20-minute time slot to eat. Fall classes at Vanderbilt, which will be in-person, begin on Aug. 24.
On Indiana University’s Bloomington campus, which will follow a hybrid model for classes through Nov. 20, eateries will be takeout only, and cash transactions will not be an option. In an effort to keep dining halls from getting too crowded and to ensure students are following protocols, safety ambassadors will be on hand.
At the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, which revised its reopening plan earlier this month, students dining in will be limited to a 45-minute visit, with a maximum of six diners at a table. In addition, there will be no self-service, and backpacks or bags are not allowed in campus eateries.
At Elon University, where in-person classes are resuming on Aug. 19, students will return to a wider array of grab-and-go options and extended hours in the dining halls, including for late-night service. Reusable servingware will go by the wayside, and all meals will be packed to go in compostable containers. Students can also order meals via Good Uncle, the school’s third-party delivery provider.
Buffet to Go
Penn State Food Services in University Park, Pa., is debuting a new concept this fall called Buffet to Go, through which students can choose from a variety of items as they move down a one-way line. (For safety purposes, customers will not be allowed to re-enter the line.) Self-serve beverage and condiment stations are discontinued, and students can pre-order items at certain dining locations via the Penn State Eats platform. Fall classes at Penn State are slated to begin on Aug. 24.