Changes in dining services: COVID-19 safety measures reduce dietary options and seating

As the school year started, students and staff had to adjust to new changes on campus to comply with COVID-19 safety guidelines. While the changes that Concordia’s Dining Services (DS) made to seating, eating options and food availability in light of the pandemic were necessary for safety, the dining experience in Anderson Commons has dramatically changed.

Student worker Rachel Bringle ready to serve students at the vegan section in Al Dente, Maria Klipfel

Some of the major food options DS modified are the Explore section, Energy, Filling and Bliss. The Explore section was removed to avoid lines and congestion, with only the favorite items being included in the Comfort menu rotation. Another way DS is trying to combat lines is to switch Filling, the sandwich station, to pre-made sandwiches. The Energy station is currently shut down due to the lack of space for workers to serve in that area. There are still limited options available, such as yogurts, that can be found in Fresh. Bliss did not undergo major changes, but was streamlined for traveling convenience. 

Director of Dining Services Nicole Crouch said, “We really had to think about what travels well since a majority of our meals are to go. We only have seating for about 175 in Anderson Commons. We normally have 725.” 

Students with food allergies, intolerances and preferences have been struggling to adjust to the changes. Sophomore Emmy Seljevold has gluten-free diet restrictions and feels that the number of options for specialty diets has decreased. 

“I have the lowest [dining plan] available but I feel like I would even appreciate a lower one because of my eating restrictions just because I can’t always eat all the options,” Seljevold said. 

Students are allowed to preorder gluten-free pasta and pizza before hand, as well as consult workers about differing options available. However, Seljevold feels students with dietary restrictions would be served better if “they had more options readily available and consistently served.” 

DS tries to account for students with dietary restrictions through preordering and other methods. Crouch said, “We have a specific group of students we email every week that receive our Anderson Commons menu that labels our gluten-free, vegetarian and vegan options. Any student can be on the list if they choose to.” 

There is also an area in Al Dente with baked potatoes, rice, a vegan entree and soup. These items are available daily along with options in Comfort and Fresh. 

Another major change in DS is the seating availability. Since most meals are for take-out, DS has limited seating and now offers overflow seating in the Centrum. The tables are positioned so all chairs are six feet apart. Senior Karin Selland reflects on the changes in DS. 

“I think probably the hardest part for me is that, in my three years, DS has always been a place to socialize. Me and some of my friends would find ourselves in DS a lot longer than necessary because it was really easy to strike up conversations with people,” Selland said. “That doesn’t really work this year. It is more responsible not to linger.” 

Despite the changes, Selland is optimistic. 

“So far, DS employees have been so amazing. They know that it used to be completely your own choice. I feel like they have been very generous. Overall, I am very impressed,” she said.

Crouch appreciates the students and staff who have been accommodating with the changes and reassures the campus community that DS “wouldn’t ever make any of these changes permanent.” The goal is to maintain COVID regulations until it is safe to fully open again. 

Crouch also remains positive about the changes, using this new situation as a learning opportunity to better service. 

“This year is going to be remembered by all of us for a very, very long time. I think going forward will be different.

I think we can expect that. We know that the most important thing is that we maintain the health and safety of our campus community. The measures that we do in DS are for that reason,” Crouch said. 

During this time, Crouch asks that students remain patient and continue to be resilient. While COVID disrupted student life, there will be time when it no longer will. 

“It can only get better. It might get a little worse first, but in the grand scheme of things, it can only get better,” Selland said. 

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