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Still serving students—and missing the ones who are gone

May 1, 2020
Robert Zeng walks through Douglass Dining Center with his to-go lunch order.Robert Zeng ’23, a financial economics and music dual major from Shenzhen, China, says he appreciates having variety when it comes to getting food. He orders regularly from GrubHub, but visits Douglass Dining Center every few days. “The food is still great,” he says. “It may not be as complex as the regular stuff, but we still have options.” (University of Rochester photo / Matt Wittmeyer)
Dining Services adjusts its services and options to serve students who have remained in residence halls on the River Campus.

Filling up a to-go bag in Douglass Dining Center in April, Shane Michtavy ’20 said he’s a regular at the River Campus dining hall.

Speaking through a mask and wearing eye protection, the chemical engineering major says that since the University went into lockdown in March, he’s walked over from the DKE house to pick up food twice a day at Douglass. He appreciates that the University of Rochester’s Office of Dining Services has re-engineered much of its operation to accommodate state-mandated rules that allow only take-out dining.

“It’s a blessing compared to what everyone else is going through,” he says. “I’m really grateful. It’s one less worry.”

Heri Rajaoberison '22 carries a to-go bag to pick up lunch at the Bistro 1850 serving station.

When students arrive at the door of Douglass Dining Center, they’re provided with a bag to fill as they visit two serving stations. Here, Heri Rajaoberison ’22 picks up lunch at the Bistro 1850 serving station. (University of Rochester photo / Matt Wittmeyer)

Michtavy is one of about 750 students in the College who have remained on the River Campus this spring, finishing out the semester while living in residence halls. Like their counterparts who have returned to their home residences or moved off campus, the on-campus students are completing their coursework remotely, connecting by teleconference with faculty, other students, and support staff.

And while most of the non-Medical Center parts of the University have moved to remote work, services for the on-campus population remain in operation, albeit on a reduced basis with new operating procedures.

Douglass, one of the main dining halls on the River Campus, along with the Pit and Starbucks in Wilson Commons, and Hillside Market in Susan B. Anthony Halls, remain open for business. But Douglass has gone from serving as many as 3,000 visitors a day to about 150. Service is available for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, but hours have been cut back.

Gloria Jackson wears a face mask and uses cooking tongs to fill a to-go lunch container.

Gloria Jackson, a 26-year dining services employee, continues to serve lunches to students who remain on the River Campus during the COVID-19 pandemic. (University of Rochester photo / Matt Wittmeyer)

Dining Services has had to quickly recast much of its operation to abide by rapidly changing guidelines issued by the state and the county.

Sourcing paper products was an early hurdle, as was shifting the menu to work well in take-out formats. But there has also been time to explore ideas for the future.

“We were able to come together as a team and work side-by-side in a very challenging time,” says Bryan Carey, hospitality services director for Douglass. “We want things to look really good when we have the opportunity to reopen.”

Amy Wang holds a white to-go lunch bag at one of the serving stations in Douglass Dining Center.

Annie Wang ’22 picks up a bagged to-go lunch in Douglass Dining Center. (University of Rochester photo / Matt Wittmeyer)

Cameron Schauf, director of Campus Dining Services and Auxiliary Operations, says the staff has worked diligently to make sure students living on campus have options for how they manage their meals. In addition to making changes to how meals are served, Dining Services adjusted the College’s dining plans so that students have a bank of resources to use either to get food on campus or to order from the delivery service GrubHub.

“We often had to switch gears each day,” Schauf says. “I’m proud of the work that my team has done in making each of these steps. There’s never been a moment when I have said, ‘How are we going to do tomorrow?’ ”

Employee Tammy Connell wears a face mask as she disinfects surfaces in the dining center.

Tammy Connell, who has worked at the University for 11 years, disinfects surfaces in Douglass Dining Center. (University of Rochester photo / Matt Wittmeyer)

For the dining staff, the changes have also disrupted their connections with students.

Tammy Connell, a cook’s helper who has worked for the University for more than 11 years, says the staff gets to know the students over the course of a year.

“It breaks my heart not seeing the students come in,” she says. But, she notes, for those who are still on campus, there’s more time to talk. “We let them know that it’s going to be all right. We’ll have normalcy again.”

Brant Lewis, donning a face mask, cashes out a student, seen from behind, at Hillside Market.

Brant Lewis cashes out a student at Hillside Market. (University of Rochester photo / Matt Wittmeyer)

Jayquan Coley, a cook’s helper who’s been with dining for 10 years, says “it’s been a bit lonesome” because he enjoys interacting with students.

“I miss my students,” he says. “I’m used to a big crowd. That’s what gets us going.”

At Starbucks, Lisa Heininger, hospitality services manager in Wilson Commons, says the store went from being one of the busiest in the Northeast to allowing just five customers in the store at a time.

At its peak each semester, the store handles about 2,000 orders a day. That’s down to about 175 to 200 this spring.

Kamal Raji, donning a face mask and holding a shopping basket, considers the the refrigerated good at the Hillside Market.

Kamal Raji ’21 shops at Hillside Market on the River Campus during the COVID-19 pandemic. (University of Rochester photo / Matt Wittmeyer)

And at Hillside, a convenience-style market in Susan B. Anthony Halls, manager Dustin Peterson says the store, too, has implemented social distancing and traffic rules. He admits that it’s strange for the store to be so quiet as the end of the year approaches, normally a busy time at Hillside.

Claude Mulindi ’22, an engineering sciences major living in Crosby Hall, stops at Hillside a few times a week. He regularly eats at the Pit and Douglass but likes to make his own meals as well. Getting eggs at Douglass, he was prepared to live on his own. “I can make an omelet,” he says.

At Douglass, Annie Wang ’22, a brain and cognitive sciences and psychology major, says she’s impressed with what the dining hall has to offer. While she’s a regular user of GrubHub, a friend encouraged her to try Douglass.

“I think it’s pretty good,” she says. “It’s safe, there’s variety. It’s the best-case scenario, given the situation.”



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Category: Campus Life