Dining changes for COVID-19 create monotony

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David Solinksy // The Flat Hat

Here I am, writing yet another article about dining services here at the College of William and Mary. This time, it’s the COVID-19 edition.

Prior to even coming to campus this year, my greatest concern was about the dangers of a dining hall during a pandemic. Surely, students would no longer be able to serve themselves, eat in such a confined space or even drop by the dining hall casually, whenever they wanted. Dining halls can be chaotic, and chaos does not mix well with viruses. Making the appropriate changes during such an inconsistent time was undoubtedly a challenge for the College, and I do think they succeeded in a lot of ways. However, I also think the College forgot along the way that if students live on campus, their main source of food is from the dining halls, and if we remain for the entire semester, students will be eating this food for months.

The first thing that I noticed was the lack of variety among the food. Marketplace used to be known for its Simply to Go section, made up of prepackaged foods such as sandwiches, yogurt, fruit, etc. Now, all dining halls — as well as the Tribe Truck, which used to offer special meals each week — offer this selection, which, while convenient, means the dining halls are serving a lot of the same food as each other every day. Of course, they still serve options at the grill section and rotating entree areas, but overall, COVID-19 has resulted in far less options for food. Besides the Simply to Go section, there is even less variety at the standard stations. I understand the severity of COVID-19 and why the College made this change; however, during a time when I have to take all of my classes inside of my dorm room, thus making every day more or less the same, am I really expected to eat the same food every day as well? I think it’s safe to say that all students get tired of the dining hall food by the end of the semester, so I wonder how much quicker that will occur this semester.

Another change that I find somewhat strange is the College’s insistence on us checking the capacity of dining halls every time we plan to go so that we can make sure it’s not too crowded. I haven’t actually seen the dining staff turn students away yet, and I’m not sure if they even plan to do so, or just make students wait in order to enter. In fact, I went to the Sadler Center last night, and despite arrows on the floor indicating where to walk and stand, it was a little bit of a mad house. While I understand trying to keep the amount of people in the dining halls low, I don’t exactly understand how we are supposed to make this happen, and it does not seem as though the school’s attempts to keep crowding low are going particularly well. I go to lunch between breaks in my classes; I don’t choose when I go willy nilly. In addition, the dining halls are closed at certain times for cleaning, so we can’t push our meal schedules back too far or risk finding a locked door. I really hope that the College is not solely depending on students — who made their schedules pre-COVID-19 regulations, to be clear — to keep the crowds at bay.

I know what you’re all thinking: why don’t you just go to the dining halls less? To answer your question, I definitely am. I tried to pack a lot of food that I can easily prepare within my dorm, such as oatmeal, ramen, mac and cheese and granola bars. However, I can’t live on those things as nutrition, and I also have no desire to do so. You can only use a microwave a certain amount of times a day before you have to reassess your life.

As a student who lives on campus, I am required to have a meal plan, and thus, I use it often. I definitely appreciate the precautions that the College is taking to protect students, and of course, some of these changes are beneficial. I am excited about the ease of take-out at all dining halls, as opposed to just Marketplace. I used to leave with food all of the time, whether that was a sandwich that I packed in a Tupperware container inconspicuously, or fries that I shoved into a coffee cup on my way out. It’s nice to actually have containers that properly hold the food that I want to eat. I am also intrigued by the new section of Sadler: Sadler Express. Besides the prepackaged foods, this side of Sadler also has a pasta bar. It’s a bit quirky, since the pasta itself and all toppings are clearly already cooked, but the staff takes everything that you chose and heats it up in a pan right before your eyes. I don’t think I’ve ever seen someone heat up pasta in a frying pan, but I can’t say that I’m mad at it.

I’m taking a marketing class this semester, and one of the first concepts that we learned was to focus on the customers’ needs as opposed to the product itself in terms of selling. Yes, of course, students need a safe place to eat, but if none of them want to eat the food, what’s the point?

 

Email Alyssa Slovin at

amslovin@email.wm.edu.