Feeding BC: Dining Services’ Fall Plan

A look into how BC Dining has prepared for the upcoming fall semester to ensure a safe dining experience as BC reopens.

McElroy Commons has never looked so empty. There are no more than six seats to a table, but only half the tables are there. The other half are being used as barriers, turning the serving areas into mazes. Markers on the floor designate six foot distances, and even more plexiglass divides the servers from the diners. Sanitizing stations fill empty spaces, visible from just about anywhere in the room. BC Dining is embracing the new normal

Since July, Boston College students and parents have gotten an email a week (at least) from some administrator with some new detail about the school’s reopening. While these emails have provided much needed information, the constant contact becomes overwhelming and hard to keep in check; it’s all too easy to lose track of the new protocol and the ever-changing “new normal.” 

McElroy Commons, Corcoran Commons, and Stuart Dining are to be the main dining halls for students. They will each be open every day from 7:30 a.m. until 8:30 p.m., with hour-long closures between mealtimes for deep cleaning. Each main dining location will have an additional serving area in the same building—Eagles Nest, the Heights Room, and the Yellow Room respectively—with the same menu to decrease density and expedite food retrieval. Corcoran and McElroy will serve the same menus to prevent students from trekking across campus and overpopulating one dining hall, and menu options will be limited, offering only a few of the more popular dishes at each meal while attempting to offer student favorites.

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Other dining locations will be open periodically, as well. Brighton Campus’ Cafe 219 will be open. Lyons Hall, or the Ratt, will serve breakfast and lunch (8:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.) on weekdays. The popular location will have its iconic New England coffee, but, as with every other dining location, self-service will not be an option for students. 

Unfortunately, other favorites will be closed at the beginning of the semester, including Hillside, the Chocolate Bar, the Bean Counter, and the Eagle Marts. Late Night, too, will not be offered. BC Dining hopes to get some of these locations and services up and running once the semester begins; their reinstallation, however, relies on increases in staff. To substitute for the lack of Late Night, BC Dining recommends students purchase pre-packaged or grab-and-go items to keep in their dorms.

Right now, BC Dining’s largest concern is lunch, its busiest meal of the day. They have been subtly promoting the GET Mobile app to order meals for pickup in the emails and FAQs on their website—especially for midday meals. Perhaps to incentivize its use, GET Mobile will be the only way for students to customize meal orders. An email (yes, another one) from BC Dining will be sent the week before move-in begins with specific instructions about GET Mobile ordering. 

Until then, students can expect to pick up their food from the CoRo Cafe when ordering from McElroy, Addies when ordering from Corcoran, and the Yellow Room when ordering from Stuart. GET Mobile will be available from 10 a.m. until 8p.m. at CoRo cafe and Addies and 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. in the Yellow Room. Mandatory meal plan money, credit cards, and debit cards can be applied, but all meals must be retrieved—delivery is not an option. 

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Of course, BC will continue accommodating food restrictions, including vegetarian and vegan diets—the policies for meal accommodations and medically-restricted diets, updated last year, will be in place and can be found on BC Dining’s website. Menu items will continue to be labeled for allergens, with additional labels on the online menu, and BC’s nutritionist, Michelle Lucier, is still available this year for appointments.  

Many of the practices they are implementing this fall had been initiated in the last few weeks of the spring: markers on the floors, increased sanitation and grab-and-go items, required face covers, contactless payment, and plexiglass shields at all stations. Training and brainstorming for additional precautionary measures then continued through the spring and summer, Beth Emery, Director of Dining Services, and Michael Forcier, General Manager of Upper Campus Dining, explained in an email to Gusto. After the administration sent most students home in March, BC Dining was still in operation in McElroy. Dining employees cycled through positions for the small number of residents on Upper Campus while allowing management to evaluate the most effective practices for the future.  

For further safety, seating has been reduced in all dining halls. As an independent purveyor, BC Dining will be following Massachusetts’ guidelines for restaurants, seating at 50% capacity with no more than 6 seats per table. As everything is in to-go containers, students will be able to take their food to other locations, including their dorms, other physically distanced spaces, and— weather permitting—outside eating areas like Stokes Amphitheater and the outdoor tables on lower campus.    

Students will be required to follow strict measures when entering dining areas. Face masks are required unless eating; phones must be away while ordering to avoid contamination, and supplies—hand sanitizer and wipes—are available for students to disinfect as they enter dining halls and to wipe down their eating areas before and after use. For now, there is no limit as to how long students can sit in dining halls, but as BC Dining management observes students’ tendencies this fall, much is subject to change.

During the Massachusetts- and BC-mandated quarantine period—the day or so that students will be awaiting their COVID test results—students cannot leave their dorms, even to run outside to pick up delivered food. After receiving their test prior to move-in, students will also retrieve three or four meals for this period. Further, students who test positive and are placed in campus isolation will receive food from BC Dining. The isolation menu will offer at least one vegetarian option for each meal, but many of the details for the delivery of these meals remain unknown to students. 

While BC’s sustainability efforts have been all but erased in the wake of the virus, Dining Services is doing its best to implement practices that are as sustainable as possible. Containers will be compostable, and students are encouraged to bring their own reusable utensils and water bottles to dining halls. FRESH to Table demonstrations at Corcoran have been put on pause, but FRESH-approved dishes (Fairly traded, Regional, Equitable, Sustainable and Healthy) will be on the menu. The farmer’s market on Lower Campus is set to continue through the fall on Fridays, and students will be able to buy produce boxes through the community support agriculture (CSA) farm share. 

The team anticipates the most difficulty coming with speed of service and variety in the menu, but one of the biggest factors is completely out of their control. Much rests on the cooperation of the student body, and, as much as the staff tries, BC Dining cannot force students to comply with the protocol. If students don’t adhere to the Eagle Pledge, they put not only themselves but other students and staff around them at risk as well. While Dining Services will be doing their part to safely serve the student body, it’s up to the students to uphold their responsibilities. As much as BC Dining has anticipated for the fall, it really is impossible to know how things will go.

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“We are very excited to have the students back on campus since they inspire us to do what we do. Just like most people during the pandemic, our team members are nervous and anxious at times,” said Emery and Forcier in an email to Gusto, “but our team members are feeling confident about our safety protocols after their experience this spring and summer and have mentioned that they are pleased with our focus on keeping them as safe as possible.”

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