Hillsides Goes Zero Contact

If you’ve passed through the first floor of Maloney at any point since the beginning of November, the first thing you probably noticed was the resurgence of life in an area that had previously been empty and gated off. Students are once again populating the tables: zeroed in on homework, chatting over coffee, or scarfing down a panini with chips and a pickle. For anyone not new to Boston College campus this year, this is a familiar feeling for Hillside Cafe. But look closer and you’ll see something startlingly unfamiliar about the new setup. Replacing the Starbucks coffee bar where you used to be able to sit is now two, hulking metal lockers labeled “B” and “C.” “Seems like a strange place to put an Amazon pickup center,” you might think. But then you see a student place their phone under a scanner, and just like magic, a locker pops open. What they take out is not a box from Bezos, but a smoothie and a bagel! This is the new Hillside experience at BC, one that more and more students continue to discover each day.

It’s no question that BC Dining underwent significant changes throughout the course of the semester. Students rejoiced at every win they could get. First, the return of Eagles Nest and Addie’s Loft, offering their old favorites made through pre-order only using the Get Mobile. After that, CoRo Cafe reopened with their signature Starbucks drinks and newly added smoothies, providing students on Upper and CoRo a place to grab a morning coffee or midday sugary pick-me-up. Perhaps the biggest victory to student morale was the return of late-night three nights a week, with returning favorites such as chicken fingers, fries, onion rings, and mozzarella sticks. And most recently, Hillside. 

Like Addie’s and Eagles, Hillside is exclusively doing orders through GET Mobile. What makes the Hillside’s experience different is that there’s zero customer contact along the way, not even when picking up your order. In a time when every interaction comes with the chance of spreading Covid, taking humans out of the equation is objectively the safest option. Assuming all employees behind the lockers are following CDC safety procedures, Hillside’s new method should be 100% Covid proof. In addition to maximum pandemic precautions, there are plenty of other benefits to the cafe’s new locker system. For students who are on the go, they have the option to place an order for a specific time and pick it up at their leisure. To summarize the pros of the system: quick, safe, and hassle free. 

Like any new implementation at BC, there are reasons for pushback as well. A common complaint is that because of limited locker space, an order will be removed from its designated location if it has not been picked up in a specific window of time. Thus begins the ordeal of ringing the doorbell, asking for a manager, showing them proof of your order and providing your name, and ultimately receiving your order, which may be too cold or too warm, depending on what you ordered. There’s also the question of, “What if your phone dies?” or, “What if the text message never goes through?” Logistically all these frustatations are valid, but solvable. The one complaint that can’t be solved is a remark I’ve heard from many of my friends and Hillside customers. The new system is, simply put, “weird.”

While working through this article, I’ve tried to pinpoint why I agree with the latter. I’m used to using mailboxes to retrieve mail, lockers to store my clothes and books. So why is food any different? I believe it is because food is meant to connect, but Covid, by nature, has created distance in exchange for protection. It all comes down to the question of safety versus service, a tension felt in almost every sector affected by the virus. For dine in restaurants, servers are told by managers and the CDC to stay distanced from their customers and limit time spent at tables. I know through my personal experience with BC dining as a barista that what I look forward to the most while doing my job isn’t making coffees, but connecting with customers. Think of your own experiences. Has a friendly conversation with the cashier at late-night ever made your evening? Have you ever made an odd connection with a waiter because they weren’t afraid to strike up a conversation? Do these interactions make you appreciate your food a little bit more?

At the end of the day, everyone has to make sacrifices for the sake of stopping the spread of the virus, and I don’t think that being able to have a chat with your neighborhood barista is the be all, end all. But for customers and food service workers, it’s a crucial part of dining, no matter if it’s at a five-star restaurant or right in our little BC backyard. The Hillside lockers may be here for now, but as long as they stay hunks of metal, it won’t be the same as a true BC dining experience. 

Cover photo courtesy of the BC Dining Instagram.

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