UConn dining staff reflects on changes made for the Fall 2020 semester

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Derek Carlsen, production chef at South Dining Hall, spoke about the challenges the dining hall faced this semester and the ways they have overcome them. 

When asked about their greatest challenge, Carlsen said facing the unknown has proved to be a major difficulty. He said it was difficult to plan in advance, as challenges emerged suddenly. 

“The current climate is filled with unknowns and anything can change at a moment’s notice. Dorms going in/out of quarantine cause a drastic fluctuation in business which has us scrambling to adjust orders and production amounts,” Carlsen said. “Products that would normally require a day’s notice can suddenly require a two week lead time or simply be unavailable. We’ve had to remain fluid and react to each challenge that’s been thrown our way.” 

“We’ve made a lot of changes to our menus. These changes are an effort to reduce wait times for students and to eliminate some supply issues.”

Carlsen said the changes made ranged from menu adjustments to better sanitation and a system of tracking when staff enters and exits. He said these changes were made to help limit the number of people in confined spaces. 

“We’ve made a lot of changes to our menus. These changes are an effort to reduce wait times for students and to eliminate some supply issues … We have staff making laps around the building sanitizing ‘touchpoints’ and high use areas,” Carlsen said. “We have social distancing guidelines and placed a limit on the number of people allowed in the office. We’ve also had a ‘buzzer’ installed on our rear entrance and require any non-staff members to sign in and out of the building.” 

Carlsen said that the biggest change they had to make has also proven to be their most successful: the switch away from buffet-style dining. He admits they still do struggle with the adjustments, but it has largely been a success. 

“We now prepare everything to order whether it’s a cup of coffee, a salad or a packaged meal. I thought that we would have difficulties with this transition, but after some initial challenges and a change in traffic flow, I would say the way we are doing things is working out,” Carlsen said. “To be honest, we do struggle at times. Trying to communicate through masks and Plexiglass can, at times, be frustrating for both parties. Even with our struggles, the lines are short and moving quickly.” 

These changes, Carlsen said, were shared with the staff well before their return to campus. Even with the long layoff they experienced, he said they remained in contact with one another over the summer. 

“Even though most of us were on a lengthy layoff, our department still maintained contact with us via email and set up a website for us containing resources and documents related to our [COVID-19] situation both on-campus and within the department. Before our return to work, we were required to complete an online training which included job-specific training… We came back to campus a week or two before students returned,” Carlsen said. “It was during this time we had multiple staff meetings to discuss changes that would be taking place.” 

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