Dining services adjust to COVID-19 through continually changing policies

Kristi Phillips, Staff Writer

From the shift to outdoor dining to the suspension of the beloved soft-serve ice cream machine, the Westmont dining services have seen many changes in the past year. These modifications have largely been in response to the pandemic and have affected different sectors of the Westmont community. Administration, staff and students all bring unique perspectives to the way the dining experience has changed since COVID-19.

Bill Groeneveld, Associate Director of Procurement and Contracts, voiced his perspective as an administrator. He explained that the decisions made by himself and the Dining Enhancement Team reflect a desire to “comply … with government mandates on how we must operate, while providing the most normal Westmont dining experience possible.” In order to comply with the mandates, the Dining Commons (DC) has arranged the food lines to eliminate cross traffic and has also switched to to-go dining. The to-go dining system uses paper containers to package food, provides disposable utensils, and maintains outdoor dining tents.

Speaking of the dining experience as a student, Nathanael Nims, a sophomore at Westmont, expressed some dismay at the frequent changes. He said the Dining Commons’ new closing time of 7:00 p.m. on weekends was “an unpleasant and unwelcome change.” He also lamented the lack of options available during the pandemic: “It would be nice if they hadn’t taken away things like the ice cream machine [and] salads you assembled yourself.” Additionally, Nims noted that he would prefer a more consistent setup for food lines and stations, explaining that their unpredictability added stress to an already uncertain time.

At the same time, Nims acknowledged that Westmont’s dining services have done their best to mobilize people efficiently through the lines while keeping them safe. Groeneveld confirmed this strategy, explaining: “The handful of changes to the traffic pattern within the DC have … been about trying to speed up service safely, in direct response to student feedback.”

The ever changing world of the DC. (Charlotte Westburg)

In addition to addressing student needs and preferences, Groeneveld and his team have also sought to prioritize the safety of Sodexo staff.

As a Sodexo employee, Sous Chef Jonathan Dionico offered his perspective on the safety measures. While he initially expressed concern for his older coworkers, Dionico ultimately concluded that “employee-wise, everyone is safe.” Employees are tested each week in an attempt to reduce chances of spreading disease.

In terms of limiting the spread of COVID-19 among students, at least within the DC facility, Nims credited the staff for doing their best. At the same time, he noted that ultimately, “it’s up to students to decide … how far away they want to be from their peers.”

As policies preventing the spread of COVID-19 have taken priority, however, other improvements to the dining services have been curtailed. Groeneveld acknowledged these constraints, specifically in regards to facility improvements that have been delayed: “The last significant remodel was now ten years ago. There are things that need attention — those worn-out vinyl floors are at the top of my list.” 

In addition to updating facilities, dealing with the waste generated by the Dining Commons is a prevalent concern that is difficult to address in the midst of the pandemic. Both Nims and Groeneveld named the use of disposable utensils and containers as problematic. 

In addition, the DC has had to deal with wasted food. Dionico observed that more food must be prepared during the pandemic because students can no longer select their own portions and are served more food than they would have taken otherwise. Alluding to both the discarded containers and the wasted food, Nims remarked, “The amount of waste that comes out of the DC … is kind of a [tragedy].” 

 Amidst less-than-ideal conditions, Westmont must endure the many adjustments made to the dining services. Acknowledging the difficulty of these adjustments, Groeneveld pointed to the communal loss of “the DC’s unique role as a campus community gathering place.” Yet the communal challenge to endure these difficulties also unites Westmont staff, administration and students. Groeneveld demonstrated this striving for unity when he stated, “Like all of you, I deeply yearn to get back to normal dining in the DC.” 

In the current moment, many abnormal adjustments remain. Through all these challenges, however, the dining services continue to provide food for students as safely as possible.

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