Boris Tsang / Sun Photography Editor

Students enter Temple of Zeus clad in masks and sit at most two to a table, but still enjoy using the space to study and work between classes.

October 14, 2020

Campus Cafes Lose Their Bustle Under COVID-19 Regulations

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The loud hum of students packed into Olin Library’s Libe Cafe is a quintessential Cornell scene that has not survived the pandemic era. COVID-19 regulations have drastically altered the fall 2020 semester, with even getting a cup of hot coffee on the way to class now challenging.

While most cafes across campus are still open — although with reduced hours — students found that the changes had forced a shift from the daily routines they were used to.

“Last year, getting coffee was a stop along the way on a walk somewhere, but now it is its own destination, which means I choose a place where I can sit and stay for a few hours as opposed to just passing through,” said Sofia Pereira ’23.

Periera said that she enjoys visiting the Green Dragon, since she is able to get coffee and study in a place other than her dorm room. But each trip to the cafe has to be planned ahead, measured accordingly to her schedule.

“If there is an online class that I am going to speak in, something I consider is, how much am I going to be taking my mask off or talking?” Periera said.

Having a space to study was also important to Sunny Chai ’24, who decides where she gets her coffee depending on whether there is study space close by. But this can be an issue in light of social distancing regulations.

“This semester we’re still serving lots of coffee and tea and chai and cappuccinos, and of course bagels and pastries, but we don’t have room for everyone to stay and enjoy and relax for a while,” wrote Karen Brown, a University spokesperson.

This has forced students to adapt and find their own study spaces. Albert Sebastian ’22 used to count Temple of Zeus among his favorite places to get a cup of coffee and study, but now found Klarman to be a study-only space where masks are required all the time.

“Zeus is a good place to meet up with a group of people to study,” Sebastian said. “So you can go there to get work done.”

Temple of Zeus opened for take out and online-only coffee orders on Oct. 7, after being closed for the first month of the semester.

Students were also concerned about the cafes’ shortened hours. Chai, for instance, expressed frustration that Martha’s Express closes earlier than it used to, but understood that is a part of the new reality on campus.

Most students, however, were appreciative of the lengths the cafes went to create a safe experience. “It’s more work on [the cafes’] end to make sure that as few people come into contact with the same thing as possible,” Periera said.

Brown discussed Cornell Dining’s new safety guidelines, which were formed based on instruction from the Centers for Disease Control, the Tompkins County Health Department and Cornell’s Office of Environment, Health and Safety.

“Some of the changes include not allowing the use of reusable coffee mugs, as much as we’d like to. All the muffins and other baked goods are individually wrapped, and guests can’t help themselves,” Brown wrote.

Regardless of whether the new cafe culture is here to stay, both students and staff alike expressed nostalgia for the late-night study sessions, the crowds and coffee of previous semesters.

“We certainly miss the more relaxed and casual atmosphere of normal times, when dozens of people could relax with their lattes to study or chat with friends in our bustling cafés,” Brown wrote. “We’re hoping campus can be more lively next year.”