The Collegian
Saturday, May 27, 2023

Dining hall staff adapt services during COVID-19 pandemic

<p>Rope barriers and signs lead diners through the stations at the Heilman Dining Center in a socially distanced manner.&nbsp;</p>

Rope barriers and signs lead diners through the stations at the Heilman Dining Center in a socially distanced manner. 

Similar to many other aspects of University of Richmond life, campus dining has adapted to a "new normal." Heilman Dining Center staff have made operational changes in order to comply with the Centers for Disease Control and UR guidelines during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“We’ve made a lot of changes throughout our processes and what we do every day,” Executive Chef Tyler Betzhold wrote in an email to The Collegian. “We’ve always had very strict cleaning and sanitation procedures, but those procedures have increased, taking place between every single shift –six times a day vs. two.” 

Because of the decrease in self-serve items, additional staff has been needed in the dining hall to make operations run smoothly, said Terry Baker, executive director of Dining Services. 

All dining hall employees are required to wear masks while working, and dining hall staff have to go through a health screening and get their temperatures taken before starting their work day, Baker said. To prevent employees from being exposed to COVID-19 by students, plexiglass shields have been placed at cash registers and serving stations, Baker said.

“It is more challenging serving students under the COVID set-up,” said Tishelle Cosby, a line server in the dining hall. “Speed of service is a priority, so there is less time for socializing with the students.”

A noticeable change to the dining hall are the food options. Before COVID-19, students had a variety of self-serve choices. However, to comply with social distancing standards, the dining hall staff has had to eliminate students' ability to customize their meals. 

“What we’ve done is taken areas of our menu to make it work for an individual service line,” Betzhold wrote. “Before students could make their own salad bowl however they would like, but now we are rotating eight main salad bowls that students can take with them. They still have options, but the way they retrieve those options are different.”

Each day, the dining hall offers two entrées for lunch and dinner that contain vegetables and a starch. Also offered each day are a vegan hot entrée, entrée salad, side salad, a sandwich of the day, a vegetarian sandwich of the day, fruit, desserts and multiple beverage choices. Throughout the week, burgers, chicken, pizza, and pasta are available as well.

“We are listening to feedback, and we are evaluating and constantly changing our menu,” Baker said. “We work hard to meet all dietary needs, and there are a variety of options.” 

Additionally, all on-campus retail dining locations are open with their full menus. Students can order from these other dining locations through Grubhub or in person. At Tyler's Grill and 8:15 students also have the option to use self-order kiosks, which were added over the summer to reduce in-person contact. 

Another way UR has tried to maximize physical distancing in the dining hall is by placing markers six feet apart throughout the serving line. These red markings read “Please Stand Here” and “Thank You For Practicing Physical Distancing. Stay 6 Feet Apart.” 

After receiving their food, students have the option to sit inside the dining hall, which has had its maximum capacity reduced from 900 people to 266, Baker said. Each table in the dining hall has markers indicating where students can sit while still maintaining physical standards. The markers read “Please Sit Here” and “Webster Saved You a Seat.” 

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Students can reserve a spot for dine-in seating at the dining hall on Grubhub, but they can also sit without a reservation if the building has not reached its maximum capacity.

When students are finished eating, they have to flip a piece of paper on the table that says: “This table has not been cleaned yet. If you need to sit here, let a staff member know." 

This paper signals to staff that the table needs to be cleaned. After the table is sanitized, a staff member turns over the paper once more to a green side that says: “This table has been cleaned and sanitized for your safety. Enjoy your meal.” 

Students also have the option to sit outside under the white tent in the Forum, or any of the many tents that have been placed around campus. Specific tents have been designed for dining throughout the day, Baker said.

Many students have opted to receive and eat their food at Tyler Haynes Commons, where UR has set up another dining location in the Alice Haynes Room to decrease the number of people in the dining hall. Both Alice Haynes and the dining hall have the same food options each day and are set up the same way with a service line rather than self-serve stations, Baker said. 

Dining hall operations are the same during both the Red and Orange stage of the physical distancing framework, according to UR’s Fall 2020 Reopening Plan. During the yellow stage, the capacity of dining hall seating would increase to approximately 58% of the building's normal capacity, which is 525 people, according to UR's reopening plan linked above. However, there still would not be self-serve options for students in the Yellow Phase, according to the reopening plan.   

Despite the unexpected circumstances and the unknown future, the dining hall staff are determined to make students’ dining experiences as normal and safe as possible, Baker said. 

“Everyone is working as a strong team everywhere to make dining operations run smoothly," she said.

Contact features writer Lauren Oligino at 

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