UMD Dining Services employees look back on fall semester amid pandemic

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

By Braden Hamelin
For The Diamondback

When he wakes up, the first thing Michael Norman does is check his email.

As an executive chef at the University of Maryland, he answers his daily coronavirus symptom questionnaire and makes sure all other dining hall staff have answered theirs as well.

It’s an extra step in the daily lives of the dining hall staff who keep the campus running amid the pandemic, but Norman says the staff is doing a great job.

“Today is always better than yesterday, and we continue to push and push harder,” Norman said. “We’re finding out new things every day.”

Throughout the fall semester, the dining halls at this university have looked much different due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Masks are worn by every employee, cleaning is more frequent and tailored to combat the coronavirus and sneeze shields protect stations around the serving area. Staff are separated per social distancing guidelines in the kitchen and they are scheduled differently to reduce the number of staff in the buildings at a time.

Staff have also gone through new sanitation training and the dining halls have had reduced menus throughout the semester.

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But while the number of menu items being cooked has decreased, the kitchen is still operating successfully, said John Gray, the senior executive chef for Dining Services.

“The kitchen is actually [run] very, very well,” Gray said. “With a lot less variety of foods to cook, it made it actually easier in the kitchen. It actually helped us improve the quality of our overall food.”

But the makeup of the kitchen has changed this semester as well.

Dining Services spokesperson Bart Hipple said many seasonal staff and part-time workers were laid off or simply didn’t apply this year.

“There’s an unfortunate reality that with less work and less customers, people have been laid off,” Hipple said.

But many year-round employees have been able to maintain their jobs, Hipple said, adding that some of their responsibilities have shifted.

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But staff members quickly adapted to the new aspects of their jobs, Gray said, and many are happy to work during a time when many others can’t.

“They want to be here, they like working here,” Gray said. “They like working in the atmosphere with students.”

Norman agreed with Gray, saying that he is thankful for the people he works with, and he’s especially grateful to be part of the Dining Services team during this time.

“I come from the corporate sector, and coming into the University of Maryland, I didn’t know there was a place where people care so much about a community,” Norman said. “The people who work at Dining Services, they really care about the students on a day-to-day basis.”

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