Katherine Merisotis/The Bates Student
Both the shift to the “grab-and-go” style Dash program and the closing of the Den this year have resulted in a collective sense of loss over two beloved Bates landmarks. This semester, however, Dining Services introduced a new program, “Meet Me at the Mezz,” and reopened the Den for pickup and delivery in order to increase the sense of community fostered by dining.
One student, Mary Richardson ‘22, expressed excitement about the “Meet Me at the Mezz” program. “Commons has historically been such a social hub on campus, so it really felt like a loss when those mealtimes in Commons were taken from us due to Covid,” she said.
“Meet Me at the Mezz” was designed with the appeal of eating dinner on the second floor of Commons as if it were a non-Covid year, but with the necessary social distancing and public health standards to keep students and staff safe.
“In the Mezzanine, we have limited seating, the appropriate spacing between each seat, and we are able to monitor traffic through the reservation system and sign in at the door,” Christine Schwartz, the assistant vice president for dining, conferences, and campus events, told The Student. Additionally, the venue is thoroughly cleaned between seatings, and all students are expected to adhere to the Bates COVID-19 policies while in the space.
With only 35 students allowed in the Mezzanine at once, students must register for a dinner time slot the day of in order to gain access to the new program. The program is open during the usual dinner times from 4:30 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. Due to the imperative 30 minutes of cleaning between sessions, each time slot is 45 minutes long.
Richardson, who has already had the chance to eat in the Mezzanine, said “everyone was super respectful of social distancing guidelines upstairs, and [she] was super impressed with how quickly Commons employees were on the scene to clean up after us.”
The biggest challenge Dining Services has had to overcome is how to safely clean up after students given that some staff have expressed concerns about students being unmasked in Commons. With safety being a top priority this year for Dining Services, staff only enter the Mezzanine when students are not present and come equipped with masks, face shields, and gowns.
Schwartz expressed that planning for “Meet Me at the Mezz” has been a longtime in the making, with the process beginning last October. “We had planned to implement the program prior to students leaving in November, but because of the increases in the number of cases — both on campus and nationwide — we decided to postpone the opening until students returned in February,” Schwartz said. The plan for reopening the Den was finalized more recently.
The Den, which was closed last fall, has partially reopened, thanks to a partnership with EasyEats as a pick-up and delivery service, but it will not be offering the same in-person dining experience as “Meet Me at the Mezz.”
Picking up the Den’s delicious mozzarella sticks is easy; students can grab their orders at the exterior Den window by following the signs accessed through the Den Terrace.
The student-run delivery option provided by EasyEats is accessible through their iPhone and Android apps, and customers are notified when their order has been delivered to their residence.
The Den’s partnership with EasyEats clearly addressed one challenge to a safe reopening as it has provided a safe touch-free service. However, a second challenge was how to secure the proper amount of staffing as the Den has not been in service for almost a year.
“This took some redesign and redistribution of responsibilities,” Schwartz said. She also mentioned that, eventually, the staffing “worked out well.”
Schwartz emphasized that “it is because the communal dining experience at Bates is so very important to creating and sustaining a community” that a program where students could share meals together was implemented. Bates’ upperclassmen know and remember that part of what makes Commons so unique is the community it provides. “Meet Me at the Mezz” is one step closer to recreating the Commons experience that first years have yet to encounter.
For more logistical information about “Meet Me at the Mezz” and the reopening of the Den visit the Bates Dining Information page.