With plexiglass barriers, socially distanced lines and prepackaged meals, campus dining has become unfamiliar compared to past years and students have mixed feelings about Binghamton University’s new approach.
In order to maintain social distancing and safety guidelines in light of the coronavirus pandemic, many changes have been made to the dining halls this semester. Much of the seating in the dining halls has been removed in order to allow for social distancing. Meals are now prepackaged and served in to-go containers to speed up delivery and minimize wait times. Stations that formerly allowed students to customize their meals now have food packaged and prepared in advance, and stations that previously offered a wide variety of options for side dishes now offer more limited and preselected options.
Sodexo, the organization that provides the University with its dining services, and the Student Culinary Council (SCC), a student group that advocates for student opinions in relation to dining services, understand that students may have issues with this new way of dining and are actively working on ways to improve it.
YuHan Bae, senior advisor at the SCC and a senior majoring in systems science and industrial engineering, said the SCC is working with administrators to improve dining services, but students must be patient.
“We understand there is a lot of change on campus and, as a student organization working with dining administrators, we are working hard to cater the dining situation as best as possible to campus keeping in mind the safety of the students and faculty first and foremost,” Bae wrote. “It is a hard and pressing time for everyone on campus and we have only been here for a week or so. We hope that students understand there is a process to all of this and we are all working hard toward this.”
According to Jim Ruoff, district manager at Sodexo, improvements to BU’s dining experience are already underway.
“We are a little over a week into these new operational standards, and we have already made some adjustments based on student feedback — including adding more vegan options to our menu and some daily sides in our grills,” Ruoff wrote. “We are also strengthening our menu cycle moving forward to ensure that we have more cost-effective options, and we are adjusting portion sizes to meet the needs of all students. Based on data seen in the last week we will begin a la carte service on Entrée, Simple Servings and Kosher Korner on Sept. 3 so we can give our students more flexibility with their plans.”
Ruoff assured that Sodexo will do all that it can to make the experience enjoyable for students.
“Our promise is this: we will continue to make changes that ensure a more enjoyable experience for our community,” Ruoff wrote. “Please be assured that no one would like to get back to ‘normal operations’ more than [BU] Dining Services. We will do so the moment we can ensure the safety of our students.“
Some students have voiced concerns with this semester’s dining. Jeremy Blatt, a junior majoring in accounting, said he dislikes the portion sizes of the prepackaged meals.
“The portions are way too small, and it’s just too expensive,” Blatt said. “Previously you can get probably three times as much food for a quarter of the price it is now. Also, I find myself having to waste some food since you’re forced to get the sides they decided for you.”
Hannah Nahavandi, a junior majoring in integrative neuroscience, said she finds the new style of the dining halls to be too similar to elementary school lunchrooms.
Others have mixed feelings about the state of the dining halls. Anna Dennett, an undeclared freshman, said that while she is not very fond of the food, she appreciates the efforts of the dining hall staff.
“The quality of food isn’t great, and there are not that many options, but everyone who works here is friendly,” Dennett said.
Similar sentiments were voiced by Olivia Walters, an undeclared freshman.
“The food is hit or miss,” Walters said. “It would be nice if they could give bigger portions, but you see the staff working really hard.”
Lucas Martinez, an undeclared freshman, said that he is grateful to have any sort of dining hall experience at all.
“Because of the circumstances, I’m glad that we get to go into a dining hall and not just have food delivered to our rooms,” Martinez said. “And as a person who’s not used to it, it’s been pretty easy too. And it feels pretty safe too, with the social distancing.”