With COVID-19 numbers higher than ever and the emergence of new strains like the Omicron variant, Ohio colleges are looking for ways to best protect their students. One of the ways Otterbein University is preparing to limit the spread among students is to temporarily close the dining hall and offer to-go meals for students.
Traditionally, Otterbein students swipe their Cardinal Cards and go through the buffet line, but now, instead of taking their food to a table to eat, their food is packaged up to be eaten elsewhere. These measures are in place to limit large gatherings of students and adhere to the Center of Disease Control guidelines, which calls for people to stay socially distanced.
The obstacles of switching dining services from seated dining carryout meals have forced Parkhurst Dining and Otterbein Dining Services to get creative when coming up with solutions.
General manager of Otterbein Dining Services, Bill Cochrane, explains some of the newest struggles. Food shortages have been among the top obstacles regarding menu planning. “We’re constantly looking at our menu because of supply chain issues everywhere,” says Cochrane. Dining staff sometimes have to make quick changes to menus, sometimes in a matter of hours, when a certain food can’t be delivered.
Cochrane also reflects on the changes that ODS has made in contrast to the last time COVID-19 protocols encouraged to-go meals in the fall semester of 2020. A prominent struggle during last year's to-go meal period was the amount of trash building up in students’ rooms and dorm dumpsters. To combat that issue, ODS has been working with housekeeping services and facilities management. Cochrane says, “I think we’ve done a really good job, this time, of working with housekeeping and facilities to understand the impact that (to-go meals) makes all around campus.” These conversations have led to more trash removal and recycling receptacles around campus to limit waste.
Students are thankful for the work that the dining staff is doing during this challenging time, but they are hopeful and excited for seated dining to return.
“I’m excited to go back,” says freshman Anna Lasofano. “(Dinner) is when we have our time socializing with friends.”
While students are eager to return to a normal cafeteria once again, Parkhurst and Otterbein Dining Services have gone the extra mile to take student safety into consideration.