‘Good news’: Universities boost dining options as COVID-19 numbers improve

Ohio State, Nebraska and others are extending hours and opening up indoor halls with fewer restrictions on students.

From ramen bowls to pizza and wings, the dining options at The Ohio State University’s 30 campus locations—and via online ordering—are endless. So too are the experiences, from food trucks to fast casual. That is, before the pesky COVID-19 omicron strain limited gatherings.

But as of Tuesday and because of a decline in positive cases and widespread vaccinations, Ohio State has reset capacity on all of its food places to the same levels they enjoyed last year.

“For the start of spring semester, we had to put some extra safeguards in place in response to the omicron variant,” Senior Vice President for Student Life Melissa Shivers and Athletics Director Gene Smith wrote to the community. “The good news is that those temporary measures have already proven to be helpful. Since the end of the first week of classes, we have worked to quickly increase seating capacity throughout all of our on-campus dining locations.”

The lifting of dining restrictions coincides with a plan to more fully reopen campus, including common spaces in its Student Life and recreation facilities and at athletic events. In fact, Ohio State said it will be offering concessions now at basketball games, with full menus of items ready by the end of the month.

However, that doesn’t mean a free-for-all in dining facilities on campus or in other buildings. OSU officials have told students they should wear masks “between bites and sips” and try to remain socially distanced if they can. Seating capacity might be reduced depending on how widespread COVID-19 becomes again. While locations might be open and more seating available, they are still pitching grab-n-go options and mobile orders. “As always, we will continue to monitor the path of the virus, its effects and expected impacts, and federal, state and local guidance,” they wrote. “We will always quickly pivot to make the necessary adjustments as we go through the semester.”

Other colleges and universities, recognizing both the value of students being able to interact more socially and with positivity rates slowly declining, are also opening up dining options. Expanded hours and increased capacity do mean that dining services must have the staffing to pull it off, one of the many challenges throughout the pandemic being felt by those like Ohio State, which is immediately hiring for positions. The University of Nebraska-Lincoln just increased the amount of hours in its Abel Center and other dining facilities thanks to new student workers.

“We’ve wanted to bring back services that were temporarily reduced as soon as we could,” David Annis, Nebraska’s Director of Dining Services told the university’s news service. “As student vacancies are getting filled, we’re excited to again increase options for students.”

Even at the most cautious institutions, dining is being increased. Yale University reopened all 14 of its dining halls with only grab-n-go options. Even though there is no seating available, students commented that just being able to see some of their friends and workers brought a smile. Their openings also mean students don’t have to fend long lines at limited facilities to get food. At rival Harvard, they’ve gone to socially distanced seating in dining halls for only those who are eating.

Another issue plaguing a return to full dining is food supply. The University of Kansas Dining is reporting that many of the items that would normally be on their menus simply are not available because its suppliers cannot come up with “20 to 25 items” each day. And because of a lack of workers throughout the chain and because of an increase in food prices across the board, it is likely that students, staff and faculty will see a boost in prices at KU as well, according to one dining official.

Chris Burt
Chris Burt
Chris is a reporter and associate editor for University Business and District Administration magazines, covering the entirety of higher education and K-12 schools. Prior to coming to LRP, Chris had a distinguished career as a multifaceted editor, designer and reporter for some of the top newspapers and media outlets in the country, including the Palm Beach Post, Sun-Sentinel, Albany Times-Union and The Boston Globe. He is a graduate of Northeastern University.

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