Dining hall plans for the fall semester include masks, grab-and-go meals

The South Campus Dining Hall on Oct. 29, 2019. (I'Shea Boyd/The Diamondback)

By Shane Connuck
For The Diamondback

Every day during the school year at the University of Maryland, students walk through the doors of the dining halls and head off to touch plates, food and utensils at an unlimited buffet. But this fall, the dining hall experience will look different. 

This university’s Dining Services announced several changes to fall dining hall procedures Thursday, including a new reservation system and carryout options. These changes — in conjunction with increased safety procedures and earlier closing hours — are designed to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus, said Bart Hipple, a Dining Services spokesperson.

In addition, this semester’s dining plans will not follow the Anytime Dining model that has been in place since fall 2016. 

“While Anytime Dining is our preferred style of service, we are primarily committed to guest and staff safety, excellent food quality and great customer service in our dining room,” the announcement read.

The available plans all offer up to three “dining experiences” a day, which includes meals eaten inside dining halls and carryout meals. Plans will cost the same as they did last year, according to the announcement.

251 North will be used exclusively for carryout this fall, according to the announcement, and the department is planning to implement several “outpost” locations around the campus that will be specifically for grab-and-go food. Locations will include an outdoor area by the North Campus Dining Hall and the east dining room in the South Campus Dining Hall, the release stated.

[UMD announces updated guidelines for fall semester]

Reservations will be required for lunch and dinner operation hours, according to the announcement. This is so the department can regulate the number of students in the dining halls at a time, Hipple said. He estimated the dining halls will operate at about half the normal capacity. 

Taylor McLaughlin, a rising sophomore communication major, plans to have a dining plan this upcoming semester, and while the situation is unfortunate, she said, she’s keeping an open mind.

“I feel like it’s going to be a trial and error basis, and just like a whole situation with all the students getting used to new procedures,” McLaughlin said. “But I think, just as society as a whole has adapted to every change that we’ve made, it just takes getting used to.” 

Many plans, including the locations of additional outpost stations, won’t be finalized until after the university has a better sense of how many students will be on the campus in the fall, Hipple said. This likely won’t happen until after the last day students can cancel their on-campus housing without penalty, he said.

In addition to the procedural changes, increased sanitation will be performed in the dining halls. 

“Our cleaning and sanitation standards have [always] been very high,” Hipple said, adding that cleaning procedures will be performed more often in the fall. 

[Indoor and outdoor dining to resume in Prince George’s County on Monday, with restrictions]

Students will be expected to wear masks and use hand sanitizer when they enter dining halls, Hipple said, and seating will be arranged so that no student is sitting within six feet of another. There will also be no more self-service.

Staff members will be wearing gloves and masks and filling out a daily self-report of their health, which includes any symptoms of the virus and checking their temperature, Hipple said.

Since mid-March, Dining Services has paid careful attention to guidelines and recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as well as from Prince George’s County, said Colleen Wright-Riva, Dining Services director.

“I’m certainly disappointed that we’re at this place, and it makes me a little bit sad,” Wright-Riva said. “But we will rise to the challenge, and we will do our very, very best for our students.” 

Andrea Jaffe, a sophomore public health science major, echoed Wright-Riva’s disappointment. The dining hall was a fun place for her friends to gather during their freshman year, she said.

And with the North Campus Dining Hall being so close to Xfinity Center and Maryland Stadium, it was always an exciting place to be after a Terps win, she said.

The changes will definitely impact the first-year experience, Jaffe added. 

“I think it’ll be hard for them because it won’t be as fun, and it won’t be as convenient as we had it our freshman year,” she said. “But I feel like they’ll be understanding, because it’s a global pandemic.”

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