Marquette dining experience changes to conform to health guidelines

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Photo by Claire Gallagher

Dining hall staff prepare pre-packaged meals for students to grab-and-go.

With Marquette’s Anytime Dining plan, most first-years and sophomores used to stop by dining halls all the time, sure of their entry and speedy service. Now, the pandemic is changing what it means to dine at Marquette.

Alex Abendschein, marketing manager for Sodexo, said that the new safety measures are not meant to be restrictive but have been made in consultation with city health officials and Marquette University.

“Masks must be worn at all times unless you’re eating or drinking,” he said.

There is a limit of one chair per table, and there are stickers on bench seating to ensure sufficient distance between diners.

Additionally, plexiglass has been placed in many stations of the dining halls.

“The plexiglass is there to stop the spread of COVID, but it will also keep people from reaching, ” Rick Arcuri, executive director of business operations for the division of student affairs, said.

Though the look of the dining halls will be different, the basic structure of the meal plan will remain the same, and Abendschein stressed that students will still have ample options for dining.

“It’s important that we impress on you that the dining program and how it runs will still be the same,” Arcuri said. “How we’re serving it is what’s changed.”

In addition to directional signage on the floor, Abendschein said that the dining halls will create student pathways, especially in tight corners.

Abendschein also said that students on the meal plan should watch the SPARK informational video before entering the dining halls. The video includes a walk-through of the dining halls and explains the new, coronavirus-friendly process for getting food.

“We’re going to do cashless payment,” Abendschein said. “We’re also working with IT services to put in touchless card readers so there is no interface with cashiers.”

Every morning, students, faculty and staff must complete the COVID-Cheq survey, which asks questions about symptoms and exposure to sick individuals in order to determine whether someone is allowed to walk about campus and attend classes that day.

Students will have to show their COVID-Cheq green light, which will be sent to their emails after they complete their daily symptom tracker, in order to access the dining halls.

Additionally, Abendschein encouraged students to download the Bite by Sodexo app, which has menus for each of the dining halls, to plan their meals ahead of time. Abendschein also said that the dining halls are trying to provide full meals at stations so that students don’t have to go through multiple lines.

He also emphasized that staff have been trained to package to-go containers so they are full and look appetizing to students. Ordering options are not available at this time.

As some first-years decided to stay home and some sophomores chose to move out of the residence halls following the university’s Aug. 5 announcement about final fall plans, Arcuri said that the numbers of those signed up for the meal plan has been fluctuating and will likely finalize after the first week of classes, which he says is normal.

“It’s going to take longer (to serve students) because we are limited to a number of people in a unit,” Arcuri said. “Now we have to make sure we don’t exceed capacity.”

Arcuri said that dining capacities have significantly decreased. For example, The Commons used to have a capacity of 623 people but can now only serve 180. He said that other dining halls have experienced similar drops in capacities.

Abendschein said that staff will have temperature checks and will self-monitor like students are required to.

“Every 30 minutes staff will stop and do sanitizing and cleaning of work stations,” Abendschein said. “It is a visual cue so people recognize we are taking this very seriously.”

Elizabeth Wiltgen, a sophomore in the College of Nursing, said she thinks Marquette is handling the pandemic well overall but should’ve communicated with students in a more straightforward way, such as about dining options.

“Marquette didn’t communicate much about their plans for dining services until (last) week, and I felt almost entirely in the dark,” she said. “Since I still don’t know much about the plan, I worry that with physical distancing and extra cleaning procedures, it might be hard to get a quick meal between classes.”

Wiltgen, a vegan, chose Marquette partly for its dining options and has been happy so far, especially with many of the staff members in the dining halls. However, she is apprehensive about her options this coming fall.

“It would have been reassuring to receive notice from the university about how many different meal options they plan to offer in dining halls, especially whether they plan to continue accommodating all dietary restrictions,” she said. “If food is being pre-prepared and packaged, it worries me that they could run out of vegan or gluten free options for the day before everyone with dietary restrictions gets to eat.”

Abendschein and Arcuri said they both ask for patience as everyone on campus adjusts to the new normal. Abendschein even has a philosophy of “plan, navigate, enjoy” that he hopes students can apply to their dining needs.

“At the end of the day, I just want you to enjoy,” he said.

This story was written by Shir Bloch. She can be reached at shir.bloch@marquette.edu,