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Dining hall employees are complying with new regulations while serving hundreds of students each day.

September 3, 2020

A Whole New Dining Room: Cornell Dining Workers Return to Work Amid Unfamiliar New Practices

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With the first week of classes in full swing, students are beginning to adjust to a new normal. Clad in face masks, some sit in socially distanced lecture halls while others seek out Zoom links for online classes from their dorm rooms. But Cornell dining employees, many of them students,  have had to adapt to the new reality of working in the era of COVID-19.

After an initial email in July, student dining employees learned about the various precautions Cornell Dining would be taking. Reduced dine-in capacity, longer work hours, takeout service and reservation seating on the OpenTable were among the first changes mentioned.

However, some of these changes were met with criticism and trepidation by student dining workers, nervous about returning to work despite the many precautions being taken.

“I generally enjoy the chaos of the dining hall, but it’s not fun when it feels like we are in a lose-lose situation in the matter of public health. People either have to wait in line longer, or we go faster but have to be less rigid on COVID guidelines,” explained James Tallman ’23.

During a single shift, two or three employees often have to swipe hundreds of student ID cards, while simultaneously making sure that patrons are distanced and wearing masks.

The risk is compounded in the heavily-trafficked dining halls throughout North and West campus, as patrons take their masks off to eat.

In addition to the changes taking place inside of dining halls, outside communication between Cornell Dining workers has had its own set of complications. Some workers haven’t been consulted about their availability, resulting in inconsistent scheduling and shift changes.

However, veteran and even new dining workers are still returning to their shifts nonetheless, trying to keep an open mind about the coming semester.

Appel student worker Randi Hines ’24 was optimistic. “I honestly haven’t felt too nervous. I’ve worked food service jobs before,” he said. “My main concern would just be the fact that I haven’t worked one during a pandemic, so we’ll all have to adjust.”