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A jump start on fall student dining

June 16, 2020
The removal of self-service at the University's dining facilities is just one of the modifications put into place to help students stay healthy during the COVID-19 health crisis. (Photo by Matt Wittmeyer / University of Rochester)

Cam Schauf, director of Campus Dining Services and Auxiliary Operations, considers it an advantage that he and his team have had several months of experience now implementing the safest and most efficient ways to provide meals to students living on campus in the midst of strict COVID-19 prevention protocols. Since March when most students left for home, anywhere from 900 to 600 students have remained on campus and used their meal plans daily, meaning that Dining Services needed to make significant adjustments to how they prepared and provided food to these undergraduates.

That experience informs the careful planning under way to continue regular dining center operations when greater numbers of students return in the fall—and to do it in ways to that adhere to the principles outlined in the University’s Restart and Recovery plan.

“I’m proud of the work that my team has done in switching gears over the past several months, and I’m happy that together we have discovered some really efficient processes that will help guide our fall planning,” says Schauf.

Generally, Dining Services is planning to operate with reduced student seating available in all dining locations this fall, in accordance with current state guidelines of occupancy. Serving more than 4,000 students one to three meals a day at reduced capacity will be a semester-long challenge, but here is some of the thinking about how it may be done:

“We will get everyone fed this fall, and we’ll do it safely and to the satisfaction of our customers.”

—Cam Schauf, director of Campus Dining Services

  • Seating plans and physical distance queuing: Dining Services has developed several charts that carefully map out student queuing and seating capacities for each dining center on River Campus and at the Eastman School of Music, allowing the proper social distancing protocols to be enforced. Adding dining managers to act as hosts for the busier meals can ensure that the spacing of everyone is being kept at acceptable distances and that the flow of students in and out of the lines is efficient. The process will be aided by floor stickers, A-frames, social distancing signs and directional arrows, and face mask reminder signs. All students will be required to wear a face mask upon entering a dining center (or any campus building), and can remove it when they are seated for their meal. Schauf is also exploring the use of online reservations for some of the busier meal times so that students know they can sit and dine at a dining center.
  • Menus: Schauf and his team are working on menus and developing staffing plans that align with the occupancy limits in place. Dining Services will maintain its commitment to local purchasing and to the dietary needs of the University’s diverse community, including Kosher, Halal, and allergen-free options. None of the food stations will be self-service. Instead, dining staff will safely provide each item to the student. There will be greater options and availability of Grab & Go items where students can visit the Dining Center to pick up hot and cold foods to take out. Schauf is also thinking about additional campus spaces that can be opened up to students to comfortably sit and eat their Grab & Go meals. Schauf says there will be many new and appealing options at all locations.
  • Staffing: Schauf is also planning adjustments to the serving schedule in the Dining Centers to accommodate breaks for extra cleaning and sanitizing of surfaces and touchpoints. Because added cleaning will require more staff, he is considering reduced hours at some of the auxiliary food spots (OptiKale, for example) so that staff can be reassigned to the greater need in the Dining Centers.
  • Additional GrubHub/swipe options: Dining Services will be adding new food pick-up options through GrubHub, which is already frequently used for food from on-campus and off-campus locations. Students can use their declining and URos already to pay for on-campus GrubHub purchases and URos for off-campus locations. New campus GrubHub options will include remote ordering for Danforth, Douglass, and Hillside Market.

There will also be expanded swipe options introduced at breakfast, lunch, and on weekends for students to access the dining centers.

Since March, Dining Services has re-engineered much of its operation to accommodate rapidly changing health and safety guidelines issued by the state and the county. Most of these changes will remain in place for the fall, including:

  • Full sanitizing and disinfecting of food contact surface areas, serving areas, etc., at a minimum of every hour and before and after each service time
  • Increased frequency of serving utensil and serving platter swapping during and after service times
  • Face masks worn by all managers and employees at all times
  • Face masks worn by all customers, as well as 6 feet of social distancing
  • Required health checks for all dining staff members at the beginning of all shifts
  • Microwaves removed from dining areas
  • Hand sanitizer dispensers available to guests in all locations
  • Removal of self-service for food and drink; beverage dispensers turned off and all beverages switched to canned and bottled
  • Desserts and hand fruit held behind the line, available upon request
  • Paper and disposable plates, cups, and cutlery only, as well as  disposable picnic packs, replacing silverware

Schauf and his team are continuing to implement even more student dining modifications as the beginning of the fall semester approaches.

“We will get everyone fed this fall, and we’ll do it safely and to the satisfaction of our customers.”

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