Changes for the Commons

Mikaela Wegner — staff writer

The clock strikes 11am. A line-up of hungry, waiting students begin to flood into the Commons Dining Hall. Some split off to the homestyle station, others to the salad bar. COVID-19 regulation signs sit on every table and stickers urging student to stay six feet apart scatter across the carpet. There are some adjustments this semester. While Dordt students went on Christmas break, the Commons staff worked behind the scenes to make changes.

Mindi Sneller, the assistant food service director for the Commons Dining Hall, said the staff learned from last semester, and actively listened to parts of the Commons Dordt students missed.

“It was just a lot. A lot of information that we had coming at us,” Sneller said about initially preparing for the fall semester. “We just wanted to make sure we were doing right by the school, right by our students.”

The Commons follows policies and regulations from the governor’s proclamations, the CDC, and Creative Dining Services, which has a specific playbook of standard rules and regulations for COVID-19.

This semester the Commons is providing 238 seats in comparison to the 96 seats provided last semester. Sneller says the state of Iowa is allowing 50% capacity of public spaces, permitting the large increase in seating.

Other new changes include the return of the interaction station, the burger line, and self-serve stations.

Sneller said she had to do a little extra homework by reviewing regulations and forming a proposal in order to make the self-serve stations available again.

The Commons has placed signage at all tables and stations, made available single-use food-safe gloves at every self-serve area, and positioned staff behind all lines so self-serve is not necessary if a client is uncomfortable touching community utensils.

Although many old traditions have returned to the Commons, the variety of food options have remained low to keep individuals moving quickly through the stations. All eating utensils are also individually wrapped in plastic packages. Four new air filters have been placed throughout the Commons to help improve air quality. Public utensils are rotated frequently, about every 30 to 40 minutes, and all publicly touched spaces are washed and sanitized.

One challenge this semester is the lack of space. Sneller goes over to each side of the Commons and encourages students to leave as soon as they finish eating, as a line of students waits at the door to eat. The Bubble, the tent that offered extra dinging space in the parking lot next to the Commons last semester, was taken down due to heating costs.

Just like last semester, masks are required when not eating, social-distancing is encouraged, students are asked to spend 15 minutes or less at a table, and should follow instruction from signage across the Commons.

“It’s very true that we had to think on our feet and change things quickly,” said Andrew Mullins, a chef at the Commons.

One of the hardest things to manage during the fall semester was all the prepackaged meals. Although it seems simple, Mullins said orders can add up very quickly.

Above all, Sneller said she wants students to be safe, keep their distance, and track their symptoms. The staff at the Commons want to continue providing all stations, but if staff must quarantine or isolate, service for the rest of the student body will be negatively affected.

“You have students coming away from home for the first time, and this is kind of reminiscent of the kitchen table experience,” said Mullins. “People miss that, and I think it’s a comfort away from home.”   

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