An inside look at UMass Dining during the pandemic 

UMass Dining attempts normalcy despite unprecedented times

Photo+courtesy+of+UMass+Dining+Flickr

Photo courtesy of UMass Dining Flickr

By Liza Flandreau, Collegian Correspondent

With the limited number of students on campus, the University of Massachusetts has significantly cut down their dining locations. Students on campus have the option of Franklin Dining Commons, Blue Wall, Harvest and babyBerk. The decision to only open one dining commons “had to do with the location of students on campus,” said Garett DiStefano, director of residential dining and sustainability, via Zoom interview.

Despite this change, “dining really looks similar to how it has in [past semesters]; there are safety precautions […] that have been put in place, but for the most part, the food and atmosphere are really the same,” said Andrew Mankus, the director of residential dining operations, via Zoom interview.

Hours of operation and the menu hav remained the same, but food is now exclusively offered to-go, with limited inside seating.

Courtesy of UMass Dining Flickr

“There’s really not a lot of change in our overall philosophy of serving high-quality, international cuisine […] with recyclable containers and cutlery [for sustainability],” said Mankus.

As for safety, DiStefano said that “the precautions put into place are in line with campus policies; we work in conjunction with Environmental Health and Safety as well as University Health Services on developing plans in line with CDC requirements.”

Distefano said that in the building there are sanitation stations, as well as plexiglass barriers between staff and students. All food is staff-served, and seating is in compliance with state regulations.

Still, the idea is to provide a student dining experience. Due to the low campus population, the dining staff is thankful for the ability to have “a close relationship to those on campus of whom they see every day,” said DiStefano.

As for staff, the University has taken on a cohort system, “where specific teams get ready and work in different areas to keep crossover risks of any kind at an absolute minimum,” according to DiStefano. They have also used their downtime for virtual safety training. Students can look forward to the months ahead as Alex Ong, director of culinary excellence, takes part in preparing themed meals, heritage-based meals and other varieties as the dining crew would in normal times.

“Our goal is to create a sense of normalcy for our students by creating an atmosphere of home [and] ensuring that food is never going to be an issue,” said Ong via Zoom interview.

“We want to create interesting concepts that simultaneously won’t draw big crowds,” said Ong. For this reason, steak and lobster will not be served on Halloween as it traditionally is. However, DiStefano promised that it will return once it is safe to do so.

DiStefano added that the new Worcester Dining Commons will open in early October, so students can look forward to transitioning from Franklin Dining Commons to Worcester Dining Commons starting at the end of September. Further information about health and safety plans, accommodations and upcoming events is available on the UMass Dining website.

Liza Flandreau can be reached at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter at @liza_flandreau.