Campus Services During COVID-19: Dining Services

Campus Services During COVID-19: Dining Services

Contributing writer Libby Cobera ’24 interviewed Mr. Mike Webster, general manager of Dining Services, about the Dining Hall’s contributions to COVID-19 related needs.

Interviews have been lightly edited for clarity.

When you think about your daily life here, are there any big changes that have happened?

My role has really changed, because the dining hall tries to incorporate the Farm and the students and the food system all in itself. And right now we have had to just produce massive amounts of food. So, my role has really changed from an educational producer to just a pure producer. I am literally the one that delivers your lunches, because the staff is doing what they have to do to make that possible. I mean, we’re talking about making 900-1,000 meals, three times a day, depending on consumption, so it’s a challenge. On the flip side, we are so happy to have all the students back, because that’s what makes this campus what it is. And it was really surreal, in the springtime, to not have students on campus for such an extended duration. The cycle of things was really interrupted, so collectively, everyone that I’ve spoken to has just been so excited to have students back. But with it comes the operational challenges of figuring out how to meet your needs.

What has the distribution process of meals been like?

For the distribution of quarantine dining, in the beginning we were trying to give one of everything to every person and trying to make it equal. But then we …started shipping things more in bulk and tailoring it to the needs. We were giving too many milks out, kids were wasting them, they weren’t eating them. So then we started shipping cases, so they could pick what they wanted, and we tailored it until we basically got it right on day 12.

Essentially, lunch was the biggest push, that’s the largest meal of our day, and so it was just a setup line. Lunch had to be made the day before, and so everything was set up in stations and it was just an assembly line: sandwich, mayo, mustard, ketchup, chips, salad, grain, tied up and out the door.

Dietary allergies and restrictions were huge. There was a tremendous amount of students who had special accommodations, so trying to capture that data was a challenge; trying to act on that data was a challenge. So the first week and a half was a lot of trying to keep people satiated with all their diets and what not. So, we built very complicated Excel sheets!

We were really trying to encourage people to feel empowered to source what they ate. If you’re vegan, it wasn’t our job to give you a bag with your name on it, with everything in it. It was your job to navigate the system, but of course we were here to help.