As the coronavirus pandemic continues to evolve — and occupancy limitations and other protocols ebb and flow along with it — TCU Dining is ready to quickly adapt and serve. Jude Kiah, assistant vice chancellor of Student Affairs Administration, answered some questions about what faculty and staff can expect for fall dining options.
When does fall dining officially kick off and is that earlier than usual?
JK: It is a little bit earlier since we moved the original start date for the fall semester. Market Square opens Aug. 10 and retail opens Aug. 17, the first day of school.
Will TCU Dining offer any discounts on dining plans for faculty/staff?
JK: Yes, we have the same program we’ve had in the past where you can order meal plans through your MyTCU site.
Will faculty and staff need to purchase a meal plan, or can they use cash or credit for occasional visits?
Cash and credit will both be accepted as well.
What dining options will be available to faculty and staff this fall?
JK: Everything will be available. What they should keep in mind — in terms of space and controlling their environment — is that the food service entities are likely to have a wait and a fair amount of people. So they may want to try to modify when they’re using different entities. We are going to allow students to basically eat anywhere on campus at any eatery, so it might be more difficult for faculty and staff to get access or feel comfortable with that access than maybe they have in the past based upon the COVID-19 limitations.
What can you tell us about the COVID limitations on dining?
JK: There are a lot. From the limited amount of people who can be in a particular place or sit in a particular place, to the types of menus that we can offer, to the amount of people who can be in the servery at the same time, to no self-serve. Some of the experience will have to be limited. In the spring we did a similar thing, and Sodexo did a fantastic job of meeting and exceeding people’s expectations for the food options available.
What new safety protocols have been put in place?
JK: People will see changes in the methods and navigation. When you walk in, you will have to wear a face covering and you will have to sanitize your hands. We’re only allowing a certain number of people in the servery at one time. You have to stand 6 feet apart in line. The number of people who can sit at a table and the location of the table are limited based on Texas and local statutes and guidance. In accordance with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, we will have people on site to monitor all of that and make sure we are following those guidelines. In addition, there will be no self-service. You will not be able to touch your own glasses or silverware. You will not be able to serve your own salads. All food will be served to you instead of you serving yourself. So those are all changes from the past.
What are some of the positives?
JK: Being served connects you to the person serving you, and we’re excited about that. We’re definitely looking forward to having people have interactions that might make them feel more at home. Also, there will be an extensive amount of food that people can take out that wouldn’t normally be available, and students will be able to use their meal cards across campus. Obviously we want to keep density down in the dining halls and also give people the comfort of being able to eat in their own space and feel safe.
Will the serving hours be the same?
JK: In the past, the dining hall would be open and serve meals all day long. We will still be open, but there will be periods of time during the day where you will only be able to get takeout food because we will be focusing on sanitizing and cleaning in the back. During mealtimes, our staff will be sanitizing in the front of the dining facilities.
Did the new protocols require the removal of any stations/offerings?
JK: There will be fewer items on menus, but we haven’t removed any stations. We’ll try to be as broad with the menu as is possible. Obviously speed of service is everything when you’re talking about lines and density and all of that. So our menus are going to be focused on being able to deliver food to people quickly. We did have to move our Rollin’ n Bowlin’ out of the Rec Center; it will be downstairs in Union Grounds in the BLUU.
Have you removed some of the tables and chairs from the dining facilities?
JK: Yes, and the tables and chairs that remain have to stay where they have been placed instead of people being able to move them around to accommodate their group.
If self-service isn’t available, will salads still be offered?
JK: Yes. There will be an assortment of prepackaged salads available at every meal. We will also still have cookies — you won’t be able to walk up and grab one, but there will be cookies. It’s a matter of how they’re served, not an elimination.
Will you be using more disposable containers and utensils, and are they recyclable?
JK: Yes, but we are trying very hard to get as many recyclable containers as possible. We were able to do that for about half of the time in the spring, but then they were no longer available because of course, everybody wants them. We use clear plastics as well. To the extent that we can appropriate them, we will get those types of containers. When we run out of those, we will go to the foam containers that are not recyclable, but we don’t have a choice. Serving people food quickly, safely, happily — that is the primary goal.
JK: Can I bring my own cup?
What other differences will we notice?
JK: You’ll only be able to go in one door. You’ll have to go in one way and out the other; you won’t be able to choose your direction.
Do you think some changes are here to stay?
JK: I don’t think we will ever return to our full self-service. I think our staff will probably serve long term. But in terms of the selections and choices and being able to sit where you want, we want to be able to fully flower those things as we can.
Will my favorites — such as the stir fry wok — still be available?
JK: We’re not talking about taking anything away, but it will really be a matter of how we can get people through quickly. As the adage goes, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” That’s literal in this regard. Once students come and we see how they interact, we’re going to have to pivot quickly to make sure there’s speed of service, safety, efficiency and people are happy. I would hazard a guess that people are happiest with their favorite food when they can get it in a reasonable amount of time and under the least amount of restrictions.
Will there be any new offerings?
JK: We added a tent. You now can sit under a tent and eat outside without being baked by the sun. For students, we’ve changed all the meal plans to be Ultimate Flex. So now they can eat wherever they want. I’m excited about the ability of students to get food how and where they want. That’s a huge help. I think students are going to be happy about that.
Is there anything else we should know?
JK: Of course, the way we start operations may not be the way we finish. We may be able to go back to 100 percent occupancy or we may need to go in the other direction. It’s hard to know, but we are prepared for any of those options. We will do our best — you can count on that.