Dining in the time of COVID-19


Stephen Nadler | Concordiensis

Dante Sasso and Hannah Monack

COVID-19 has changed how both the world and Union College’s campus life function on a day-to-day basis. One of the most important things for any college student is being able to have a nutritional meal to keep their brain functioning and their body energized, and when a global pandemic hits, dining will have to change.

For the first few weeks of winter term at Union, the dining halls required that students only pick up food from the dining hall and eat elsewhere, and eventually students were required to eat alone in their dining halls due to the two week quarantine at the beginning of the term. Though students can now eat in the dining halls as long as they are socially distanced, there are still some major changes that the dining halls have undergone during the winter term.

One of the most prominent changes is the new usage of the GET application. According to Jim Meagher, Director of Union College Hospitality, “In our retail operations (Dutch Hollow, Rathskeller, and Starbucks), safe distancing protocol led us to implement the GET app allowing students to pre-order and customize their food choices.” Students can also use the app as an alternative to their student ID when purchasing food.  One change that has remained since fall term is the limited seating in dining halls, with Meagher stating “the number of seats had to be drastically reduced in order to comply with social distancing requirements.” This led to the take-out program that was mandatory for the first few weeks of the winter term.

In addition, some students have noted that the menus for each retail operation have changed slightly, with the GET app offering a slightly more limited selection of food choices than before. “In order to have people move through the facility quicker, for safety reasons, we looked to streamline our menu by keeping our most popular items and removing those that were perhaps not so popular,” according to Meagher. If an item that a student wants is no longer available on the menu because of this shift, Meagher states that “we can add it to the menu rather quickly” if the student contacts the hospitality services. Dining hall hours have also noticeably changed, though not to an extreme degree. Rathskeller is now open only from 4pm to 8pm on weekdays, with Meagher explaining that “[we] removed late hours from the Rathskeller, where we have limited space for safe distancing.” In its place, Dutch Hollow has become the new late night area for students to purchase food, as “there is more space.”

“Prior to the pandemic, we had a very robust sanitation program,” Meagher states. As COVID-19 began to spread, the hospitality staff “has added additional steps to ensure safety and sanitation. The manner in which we prepare and deliver food to the students has changed considerably along with our heightened cleaning protocol.” Hospitality staff can nearly always be seen using both a medical and cloth mask in order to eliminate the spread, which isn’t always the case for other areas of the school. Commenting on the nerve-wracking aspects of working in a COVID-19 environment, Meagher says “I am extremely proud of our team for coming to Union College every day and doing their jobs in these uncertain times.”

Though the majority of COVID-19 related changes to the dining hall will likely revert after the pandemic ends, there are some changes that may stick around. Meagher says that “the GET app has been very successful and will be a permanent feature of our dining program. Students have also provided positive feedback about the Grab and Go program in the Market and so I envision this will continue to evolve.” These changes may lead to a more convenient method for students when it comes to ordering food in the retail areas.

Recently, Union College hosted a series of events known as the Winter Carnival. The hospitality staff worked to deliver meals for students of all class years at four different pick-up locations. Meagher explains that “the four different pick-up locations allowed for proper social distancing, while being able to offer unique foods that the students seemed to really enjoy.”

To all students, Meagher states that “we understand how challenging these changes have been for the campus community, our staff included. We are in the hospitality business because we enjoy providing for others. The thing our team misses the most is the ability to interact with the students every day in a more personal way. Our goal is and will always be to provide an excellent dining experience for our campus, regardless of the circumstances.” Thought it is uncertain when and how COVID-19 will end, the Union College Hospitality Team will continue to help students in keeping healthy and giving them the food they need to continue on in their academic careers.