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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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Finding Family in Family Units

From March to August, a large majority of Boston College students grudgingly traded late night at Lower for early mornings in Mom and Dad’s kitchen. But despite the isolation from college friends, the extra time inspired many to learn new cooking skills and recipes that they could carry back to BC. And what good is a new homemade bread recipe with nobody to try it? Since parties are no more, many college students have repurposed their beer pong tables into dining tables. Hence the revival of the dinner party as a way to bond with what few friends they are legally allowed to host. This is the first year that BC has experienced such a surge in Instagram content featuring charcuterie boards and homemade mimosas. Quarantine produced a cherished desire for closeness and family, which reflects itself in many forms on our college campus.

One Rubenstein six-man has taken the beloved Italian tradition of pasta nights and turned them into a weekly celebration of friendship. Ben Errichetti MCAS ‘21 was one of the roommates who spearheaded the efforts. “After a summer of apartness and staying in the home and isolation, my good buddy Jeremy and I were like, ‘You know what we should do? We should bring a little warmth into our dorms, and every Sunday we can invite people over and have a nice meal.’ And instead of just inviting people over to eat we can make it a real familial type thing, which is why we invested in a tablecloth to go that small extra mile.” 

This idea of the “extra mile” began with a bright red tablecloth (to hide inevitable sauce stains) and a candle centerpiece, but they did not stop there. With each week came a different dish, side, and theme. According to Errichetti, it began as a way to celebrate and reflect on his and some of his roommates’ Italian roots. The first several main dishes included shrimp scampi, carbonara, and chicken parmesan. From there, they began to expand into more themed occasions, such as sausages and Bavarian pretzels in honor of Oktoberfest and pork chops with applesauce for the beginning of fall. Jeremy Harris MCAS ‘21, another one of the roommates explained how his upbringing influences his ideas for the Sunday Gravy meals.

“A big part of my childhood was getting the extended family together for holidays like Easter and Thanksgiving. When I was young I looked forward to these events because the food was always so unique and delicious. Being around my family for an extended period of time over quarantine made me realize that the delicious food was there to emphasize the importance of family bonding, not just eating rich food. I wanted to make Sunday Gravy a staple in college because food is what brings us together, and the people that we care about is what we stay for.”

For other family units, the food itself is not the centerpiece of the gathering, but it remains an essential component nonetheless. Mary Stenerson CSOM ‘21 explains how her roommates in 2150 have been trying out new recipes to complement their themed nights, which typically revolve around a movie or board game. “We’ve done a fair amount of movie nights where we make a lot of movie-themed food and drinks and some of us will even dress up as characters from the movie. We’ve had some nights where we just play games and make food altogether. I like finding foods I think my roommates will enjoy and making it for us to share.”

One of these particular nights consisted of a Twilight movie marathon, featuring blood-red velvet cupcakes, garlic bread, and their patented “werewolves in a blanket.” Naturally, a vampire-themed spread wouldn’t be complete without homemade red sangria. Another story that Stenerson recounts involved an apple-themed baking spree resulting from the prior week’s apple picking trip. “I made apple crisp, I made apple puff pastry cups, and I made apple cake. And even after that we still have a giant thing of apples on the table!”

When asked what they personally get out of these family unit experiences, a few keywords consistently jumped out: providing, thanking, and bonding. It’s strangely beautiful to see roommates who are usually no more than a year apart in age take on the roles of provider and beneficiary in these family scenarios. Everyone who gets to eat the food is grateful and in return contributes to the jovial atmosphere. But the people preparing the food, like Stenerson, find their own satisfaction from not just the meal, but the process of preparation.

“What do I personally get out of the experience? I think I view it as a way to give back to everyone. To say thank you for being such amazing roommates, here’s a little gift. And it’s also fun because I enjoy baking, so it’s a way I can make other people happy while still having fun myself.”

Cover photo courtesy of Marcelo Kenne Vicente