Dining Services Tackle Pandemic Production

How have the dining services made adjustments to COVID-19? Lettuce see! 

Since the start of the academic year, dining services worked to incorporate additional safety regulations into all aspects of their system, from the production of daily meals to delivery methods. Mr. Joshua Hahn, assistant head of school and director of strategic initiatives, said, “[When preparing for the school year,] one of the most scrutinized areas of campus was dining, because we know that that’s where people take their masks off, where they might be in close contact with each other when they’re eating. We spen[t] an extraordinary amount of time and energy thinking about what the protocols were around how we prepare food and how to have people not stand in line congregating.”

The dining services’ primary obstacle this year was deciding how to produce and provide meals. Prior to the pandemic, the dining hall provided several options to customize meals at the deli bar, salad bar, and stir-fry station. Under the new regulations, however, these stations are no longer available. The meal delivery process also further limits food options. Mr. Hahn said, “[For example,] it’s very hard to make scrambled eggs. You can’t really have scrambled eggs in a grab-and-go format. It doesn’t really work very well.”

The use of disposable containers and flatware as well as increased quantities of pre-made food has created much more waste than normal. Mr. Mike Webster, general manager of dining services, said, “We don’t want to bring outside people in, [so] everything has to be pre-packaged and pre-portioned. It’s really eroded our food values.”

Initially, during the quarantine period, breakfast, lunch, and dinner were delivered directly to students and faculty in their dorms and residences. Now that students have moved to in-person classes, the school has implemented a new system for delivering daily meals called “Grab and Go.” Under this system, each student has a specific time when they may pick up food. There are currently three places that community members go to receive their three meals during the week: Monahan, the Student Center, and the Dining Hall. “Assembly line” stations are set at each location to minimize person-to-person contact. 

Despite the changes, there are still some aspects of dining services that have remained the same. For example, menus continue to accommodate a range of dietary needs. Annabel Wallace ’21 said, “I miss having as many options in the dining hall, especially the salad bar. While I definitely order more food online this year, the dining hall still has options for my dietary restrictions.” 

Normally, Dining Hall allows students and faculty to enjoy their meals, socialize, and strengthen bonds. Although distancing requirements mean that the Dining Hall can fit only a portion of the school at once, the new dining system is working to preserve the ability to socialize by creating multiple outdoor seating locations. Mr. Hahn said, “You see the community all sitting outside, eating together, talking together, and I really love that. I think people are realizing how nice it is to be outside and [are seeing] more people than they might see if they were just sitting at their [pre-COVID dining hall] table with their friends.”