Published February 2, 2022, University of Mary Washington Weekly Ringer
by Jean Mondoro
Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, UMW’s dining policies have been ever-changing and, at times, confusing to students. While UMW Dining continues to face supply chain issues and staff shortages, new changes, like the reinstatement of in-person dining and the return of reusable plates and utensils at the Top of the UC, have been met favorably by many students.
Since Jan. 24, every campus dining location switched from grab-and-go only dining to offering both in-person and take-out options. The grab-and-go only option, which began in the fall 2020 semester to limit the spread of COVID-19 between students, was lifted during the fall 2021 semester and reinstated for the beginning of spring 2022.
“All of us in University Dining are excited that we are now able to offer everyone both dine-in and take-out service options in all of our campus restaurants!” said David Schneider, the general manager of University Dining, in an email. “The majority of what we do is ‘back to normal.’”
However, Schneider said that UMW Dining is still facing “large supply chain challenges.”
“Because of that, our guests may experience last minute menu changes or shortage of menu items,” he said. “Our chefs and culinary team work very hard to keep those at a minimum and have done an excellent job navigating through the interruptions.”
On top of supply chain issues, UMW Dining is also short staffed, and Schneider emphasized the need for student employees.
“We have labor shortages that impose additional strain and stress on the teams,” said Schneider. “As we hire new team members, we will continue to expand our dining offerings. With that, we need more student workers.”
Along with the reinstatement of in-person dining, regular plates and utensils have returned to the Top of the UC after disposable ones were used last semester due to staff shortages, as reported in The Weekly Ringer.
For students utilizing the grab-and-go option, disposable take-out boxes may be used for the time being, but could become unavailable due to supply chain limitations of the ongoing pandemic. Another take-out option is a program titled “Choose to Reuse,” which provides reusable containers for students who consistently take their meals to-go.
When asked about the changes in the UC, freshman Kathleen De Marcellus commented on the return of reusable plates and silverware. “I think that’s an improvement,” she said.
The return of the in-person dining option has been well-received by many students.
“I thoroughly enjoy being able to eat in a place other than where I sleep and work so overall, I am very happy with the new policy,” said sophomore history major Garrett Welch.
Although many students are welcoming the new policies, some have experienced miscommunications about the changes.
“I didn’t even know that the UC had reopened for indoor dining until a few days ago,” said Emily Hemphill, a sophomore political science major. “My friends and I still weren’t sure if we could do take-out or if all the options were all open.”
Welch has also experienced some confusion about dining policies.
“I saw many students eating inside the UC every day,” said Welch. “One of the things that wasn’t communicated very well to the students was the policy for eating inside campus buildings. This issue was less prominent in [Woodard] at Eagle’s Nest, but there was definitely an issue in the UC.”
Throughout the pandemic, Virginia universities have been implementing different ways for students to get food without the need to sit and eat in a dining hall. James Madison University uses Starship robots for food delivery on campus.
The University of Virginia utilized its own delivery system, Good Uncle, to provide meals to students. While in-person dining is now permitted at a limited capacity, they also have an option for students to pre-order using Grubhub and pick up take-out meals. UVA also advertises retail and food trucks which accept student meal plan payments.
At UMW, there are many students who have not known the university dining experience pre-COVID. Hemphill, a sophomore, recalled the feeling of isolation which she experienced when dining locations were take-out only.
“That was terrible,” she said about the outdoor seating option during 2020. “You’d be sitting out in the freezing cold trying to eat. Last year was definitely the worst, but last semester was eye-opening for me because I had never eaten inside [the UC] before.”
Welch, who has been a student at UMW since the fall 2020 semester, has only experienced dining during COVID.
“I actually started attending this school in the fall 2020 semester so I’ve only ever known the COVID protocols,” said Welch. “I will say it has been a process, adjusting to new styles of dining, but overall I’m just happy to be able to eat indoors at all at this point!”
When asked what further progress should be made on the dining situation, Hemphill said, “I think it’s just hard to know what is normal. I think right now it’s pretty good. Anything is better than to-go or eating out in the cold or by yourself. So, I’ll take it.”
Despite all of the challenges, Schneider enjoys having in-person dining.
“I feel I can speak for the entire dining team when I say this,” said Schneider, “we love having the students dining with us in all dining locations.”