In past years, Hewitt Dining Hall has served as a vibrant and cozy space filled with natural light and much conversation among students and professors. Events such as Big Sub and Midnight Breakfast brought the student body together to celebrate and enjoy food. However, amid the COVID-19 pandemic and social distancing measures in place, Barnard Dining has been forced to adapt as students returned to campus this spring.
“[We] had to come up with ideas on how to space out the students while giving them all the options that we can give them in the location safely,” Vince Picciotto, director of operations & culinary director for Barnard Dining, said. “That’s the most important part. We want to make sure we give good food and are serving it safely.”
To accomplish this, sanitizing machines have been placed at dining hall entrances. Social distancing markers are located throughout the waiting and food serving areas. With self-service discontinued, meals are now served by staff members or pre-packaged for students to grab-and-go. In addition, David Golden, Marketing Director for Barnard Dining, explained that Hewitt Dining Hall has been reconfigured to provide one pathway in either direction, with renovations connecting the food serving and waiting areas.
While Hewitt remains a walk-up location, the Diana Center Cafe and Liz’s Place now accept orders through the Boost Ordering app for pickup. Liz’s Place is also open for walk-up orders and for students to grab food and personal care items from its self-checkout market.
In its preparations for the pandemic, Golden explained that Barnard Dining remains ready to produce quarantine and isolation meals should the need arise again. Hewitt has set up its Quarantine & Isolation production meals behind blue partitions in the back of the facility so that staff can quickly get breakfast and lunch meals out to students. For students with severe allergies, allergen-free meals are being prepared separately at Peet’s Coffee, which is closed for the semester.
While it is no longer feasible for students to attend in-person dining events, Picciotto spoke to new initiatives in place to bring vivacity to the experience in a take-out and online format. Recent examples have included special Valentine’s Day desserts, takeout DIY chocolate dipping kits, and a special menu curated from the famous cookbook Sweet Home Café. Notably, the Sweet Home Café cookbook is used at the restaurant located in the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C., which focuses on showcasing African American contributions to American cuisine.
To increase student morale, Barnard Dining is continuing a number of long-standing entertainment initiatives while students wait in line to receive their food. At Hewitt and the Diana Cafe, students can use the music app RockBot to select music they wish to be played. There are also typically one or two television shows live streamed for students to view at Hewitt.
Hewitt continues to serve an assortment of items including pasta and pizza at the 500 Degrees station; protein and sides at the Homestyle Halal station; and classic grill items such as burgers and fries at the Flame station. According to Picciotto, as the Diana Cafe has moved to meal service only, the Student Choice section now offers three smoothies filled with protein, greens, and yogurt during lunchtime. Hewitt remains the only certified Kosher serving space in the Columbia Dining system, offering breakfast and lunch as well as a meat section after sundown. For grab-and-go options, there are now a wide variety of pre-packaged items for students to take such as pastries, fruit cups, sandwiches, and salads
“What we have available and what we have open is based on how many students are here to eat,” said Golden.
Hewitt’s Feed Your Unique Lifestyle station continues to offer a variety of vegetarian and vegan options, typically serving five hot and two to three cold items. Notably, the station was the first of its kind in the country, created with Barnard’s dining partner Chartwells. The popular station avoids all eight of the major allergens: milk, eggs, fish, Crustacean shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat, and soybeans, making it a prime option for allergen-sensitive students. According to Golden, the station is the first of its kind in the country to integrate both vegan and G8 dining into one concept.
Besides continuing to provide a wide variety of food options, the well-being of students and staff remains essential for Barnard Dining.
According to Golden, machines that are high-touch surfaces, such as utensil and drink dispensers, are covered with anti-microbial tape. Every surface is cleaned and sanitized with wipes every half-hour. During downtime between meal service, staff goes through the space and conducts a deep clean, washing surfaces and mopping the floors of the dining spaces.
Currently, all dining staff members must participate in the college’s mandatory COVID-19 testing program and fill out a daily self-screening of symptoms on CoVerified to be allowed entrance to campus. In the dining halls themselves, staff must maintain 6 feet of social distancing and wear face coverings at all times. As restaurant workers, dining staff will be scheduled to receive the vaccine when it becomes available to this group in the city.
Additionally, as Golden explained, to help safely foster a community among Barnard Dining staff, blue partitions have been set up in Hewitt to create safe, socially distant meeting spaces. Not only is this space open to Hewitt staff, but it is also available for dining staff at any other on-campus location for use during breaks. Previously, staff remained and ate at their specific work locations.
Barnard Dining has worked to reconfigure its food service options with the goal of providing students with the best possible service given the restrictions. While the current conditions cannot emulate the dining experience prior to the onset of COVID-19, students who choose to eat at Barnard have a wide range of options provided to them in as safe a manner as possible.