Commons Shifts to Grab-and-Go Model for Fall Semester

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Evan Ma/Courtesy Photo

Marks have been added to the floor in Commons to indicate one-way flow students should follow.

Elizabeth LaCroix, Assistant News Editor

On Aug. 12, Dining Services announced that Bates will implement a new dining procedure called the Dash program. The Dash program is designed to combat the spread of COVID-19 through a “grab-and-go” styled dining. Students will pick up all of their meals at either Commons or Gray Cage and are expected to eat in their residence halls or in outside locations. 

Christine Schwartz, the Assistant Vice President for Dining, Conferences and Campus Events, explains that the Dash program will still allow for students to have variety in their meals, despite the menu cycle changing from five weeks to three weeks. 

“While there will certainly not be as many selections as there have been in the past, there will be many options for students to choose from to customize their own meal,” she said.

Yet, according to one Commons worker, the menu has been scaled back from previous years by at least 50%. 

The selections will still include gluten free, nut free, vegan, and other traditional offerings each day. Due to the public health hazard a self-serving salad bar poses, there will be a daily Bobcat Bistro salad which allows a limited number of additional toppings, as well as a “gourmet salad” of the day. This will all be in addition to two specialty pre-made sandwiches and pizza. The soda fountain will be replaced with coolers of bottled water and juice.

“Should a student have a special dietary need, they can contact Cheryl Lacey, Director of Dining, and she will work with them to make sure their dining needs are met,” Schwartz said. 

Interactions with Commons workers will be short and significantly more limited. “You will be separated by glass and make requests from the menu, we will place the food in a box and pass it to you at the end of the line,” described one Commons worker. 

Bates has to follow both federal and state regulations for COVID-19, as well as the Center for Disease Control and Protection (CDC) “Considerations for Institutions of Higher Education.” 

The CDC recommends colleges and universities provide a grab-and-go style similar to the Dash program as opposed to buffet or self-serve approaches. All students must also wear masks when entering the dining facilities, as advised by these same guidelines.

Other changes to dining include no seating inside either of the dining facilities. Students will have access to outdoor seating, residence hall lounges with physical distancing, and residence hall rooms. “Outdoor seating will be a combination of tables and chairs, Adirondacks and lounge-type furniture,” Schwartz said. Spreading picnic blankets on Alumni Walk or the quad are also great ideas for eating meals while the weather is still warm. 

With Maine’s typical cold winters and rainy falls, outdoor seating poses a potential problem for students who are living off-campus, or for those who do not have time to go back to their residence halls between meals and classes. Information about a solution has yet to be released, but Schwartz says they are currently working on another eating location for these students. Dining Services will be sure to communicate once all the details have been worked out. 

Sustainability has long been a cornerstone of Bates’ campus culture, but under the recommendations of the CDC, disposable food service products should replace reusable ones because they are the safest for preventing the spread of COVID-19. This, of course, will cause the amount of single-use waste on campus to skyrocket, and there are questions as to whether dining took sustainability into account this year. 

“The most difficult decision we had to make was to shut down the dishroom and move to all single serve wear. Sustainability and supporting the local farmers are cornerstones of this operation,” Schwartz said.

Dining Services chose a line of 100% recycled paperboard for single-use utensils and food containers. They acknowledged that this is still not the most sustainable option, but emphasized that the health and safety of staff comes first. 

Commons tradition of sourcing local food will not be impacted by the pandemic. “Buying locally is part of our core philosophy,” Schwartz said. However, Commons will no longer be sending leftover food to the local pig farmer.

In her message to students on Aug. 12, Schwartz wrote, “ [Commons] functions well beyond a place where we simply eat together. It is a place where you gather with friends, hang out long after you’ve finished your meal, and have conversations that build and deepen over time.” For many students, Commons is a pivotal part of the Bates experience, and it will be hard to imagine life at Bates without it. 

Schwartz and other leaders in dining at Bates are well aware of the impact the Dash program will have on campus culture, but these decisions were not easy to make. 

“It was very difficult, but necessary,” she said. “The easy part was the physical reengineering of the operation. The hard part was wrapping our minds around how to align these necessary changes to ensure the safety of our community with our long standing commitment to sustainability, and providing a space where students can dine communally.”

When asked how The Dash program will affect community building, especially for first-year and transfer students, Schwartz replied: “It will certainly be  a change, but I know that Residence Life is working hard on student programming to help address this concern.”

The Commons of years past brought a sense of community to campus. It was a place where the entire school met to sit down together for a meal. The new dining experience will certainly be an adjustment for upperclassmen, but first-year students who have yet to begin to create friendships could potentially be impacted by this loss of community.

Students can follow Dining Services’ Instagram account, @batescommons, for regular updates on operations

There are a few major changes to the hours that Commons and Gray Cage will be open for Dash pickup. On weekdays from 7 am to 10:30 am, Commons will be the sole dining location open for Dash pickup. 

For lunch, students will be required to select one of four time slots within the timeframe of 11:00am to 2:45am. 

Dinner will also be available at both locations from 4:30 pm to 8:15 pm without the need for students to schedule a time for pickup. Salad, beverages, sandwiches, and pizza will be available for students in-between and after meals to pick up at Commons during weekdays from 2:45pm to 4:30pm and from 8:15pm to 9:30pm. 

On weekends, students will not be required to schedule lunch pickup and there will be continuous dining from 8:30am to 9:30pm. For a more detailed schedule, visit the Bates Dining update