Gelfenbien Commons dining hall has reopened to full capacity for the first time since it closed in March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Thomas C. Dowd, Area Assistant Manager of Gelfenbien Commons and Nosh Kosher Kitchen.
Transitioning from only offering grab-and-go food for the past year and a half to having full-capacity dining for the fall 2021 semester has required completely restarting many parts of Gelfenbien’s operations, according to Dowd.
“It has been like opening a brand-new unit,” Dowd said.
The dining hall had to be completely restocked, and the number of staff had to be drastically increased from four back to the pre-coronavirus norm of 60 by bringing back previous workers and hiring new ones, according to Dowd.
Although many workers, including the student manager, have returned, Gelfenbien is still looking to hire more workers, according to Dowd.
He encouraged any students looking for an on-campus job to consider working at the dining hall.
“If there are any students looking for work, come see us, we would be glad to have you join our team at Gelfenbien,” he said.
The reopening process has faced several challenges related to Gelfenbien’s design and uncertainty about UConn’s pandemic guidelines.
Before knowing that dining halls would be able to reopen to full capacity for the fall 2021 semester, the staff at Gelfenbien had planned to create a one-way serving line running through the dining hall. Although other dining halls had previously operated this way, the layout of Gelfenbien meant that plan would decrease available space, according to Dowd.
“Due to the unique serving areas at Gelfenbien, we were going to be limited in which ones we could use,” Dowd said.
Anticipating students’ feelings about returning to the dining hall was also a challenge.
“Part of our worry leading up to the re-opening [sic] was how the students would react. Would the students be comfortable returning to full service? Would they be comfortable eating in the unit?”Thomas C. Dowd, Area Assistant Manager of Gelfenbien
Despite challenges, Gelfenbien has been busy since reopening and the staff continue to pay attention to changes in UConn’s pandemic guidelines, according to Dowd.
“The situation is fluid, tomorrow the guidelines can change. Our job, along with the students, is to make sure we do our best to prevent those changes from happening in a negative way,” Dowd said.
Dowd credited the dining hall staff with making the reopening successful.
“But we are blessed at Gelfenbien to have a very dedicated staff. They have performed at the highest level. I cannot explain my appreciation for the work the staff has put in,” he said.
Dowd also explained both he and the staff are excited to have a large number of students back in the dining hall.
“I have heard: ‘This is awesome, it is good to be back and busy,’ many times in the last few days and I could not agree more!” he said.