Ohio University’s Culinary Services is making changes to accommodate the influx of residential students in the spring, including offering outdoor seating and focusing on limiting interaction.

The option of indoor group dining that students once had was eliminated this semester due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which has forced culinary services to get creative when serving students.

“Like most universities — specifically culinary programs around the country and the world — we are planning for the spring, but we don't have anything locked in,” Gwyn Scott, associate vice-president of auxiliaries, said. We plan fast and furiously and then reality strikes. We modify and we try to get it communicated out as quickly as we can. 

“We plan fast and furiously and then reality strikes. We modify and we try to get it communicated out as quickly as we can.”

Culinary services plans on continuing to offer carry-out dining again for the Spring Semester, as well as a few extra changes, if circumstances allow. This will include opening up The District on West Green in Boyd Hall, Scott said.

Nelson Hall and Boyd will both be open next semester, but Shively Hall will not be in use due to its small seating, proximity to Nelson, and in order to save money. 

The university is also working on adding outdoor seating at the dining halls to accommodate the increase of students, which Scott said would likely be put together by January. 

Other changes are being made with student safety in mind. In order to limit interaction, transactions will be conducted cashless with either a student’s Bobcat ID or a debit card.

Scott said culinary employees spent a lot of time during the summer marking out pathways to limit interaction.

“We added — conservatively — miles of the plexiglas dividers between the customer and the staff, any place where one would need to interact with another,” Scott said.

Jacob Myers, a freshman studying sport management and strategic communication, who is currently living in residential housing, said that he understands the difficulty of serving students during quarantine.  

“About the food itself, I think that it's ok,” Myers said in an email. “In times of COVID, it's the best way that they can get you food.”

Other changes in culinary services include new rules meant to protect staff members, like a new focus on safety procedures and hygiene. 

“(We have) to meet the higher level of inspection, so we had those regulations in place anyway but then when this happened all of those have been raised … we had the hand sanitizers at the doors before this started, but we've replaced that with a stronger product so that it will address COVID-19,” Scott said. “Ongoing training and awareness are probably the most effective action.”

Autumn Ryder, assistant director of residential dining, said that she feels that the commitment from students and staff has made the dining halls a much safer place. She also added that the management appreciates all the effort on both sides. 

“I believe (the procedures) are working for both the staff and the students getting their meals,” JB Baker, a payroll coordinator in Nelson Hall, said. “Staff members know and care about the health and well-being of each other and take the safety measures seriously. The consistency from the management team about safety measures and operating procedures has definitely been crucial in maintaining safety.”

Working in this environment hasn’t been without challenges, however. 

“Staffing the court is definitely a challenge, especially for the busier meal periods throughout the week,” Baker said. “The social dynamics … (have)  definitely changed alongside the safety measures in place at (Nelson) Court and campus, as all social dynamics have in the pandemic.”

With more students arriving on campus in the spring, staff members have concerns about students following safety guidance, Baker said.

Ryder said that it is also a challenge to keep the staff positive during these trying times. 

On the flip side, however, the culinary staff has found some benefits. Ryder said she believes the experience has brought her staff closer together. They’ve also been participating in spirit weekends, where they’ve dressed up in themed clothing like tie-dye or Halloween costumes. 

OU’s culinary services has had to face challenges stemming from the pandemic and is likely to face more in the spring.

“With more students on campus there is more concern…,” Baker said, “But with the solid foundation of safety measures the management team has put in place this semester, I feel that we will play an important part in keeping Athens and those around us safe.”