For the virtual first two weeks of the spring semester, dining halls were limited to grab-and-go meals, a stark change from the in-person dining options present during the fall. Students were unable to take in the new interiors of Morrison Dining Hall or catch up with friends over a hot meal on West. However, in-person dining has resumed, and students look forward to some return to normalcy.
On Feb. 7, Cornell dining reinstated full capacity in-person dining for all dining rooms and cafes. Going forward, take-out meals remain an option, but food is primarily self-serve. Some eateries have set spaces aside for socially-distanced seating.
During shifts prior to the return of in-person dining, Brandon Wolf ’23, a student supervisor at Becker Dining Hall, overheard excitement and relief from students about the reopening.
“When everyone was coming in, they were saying, ‘Oh my god, they’re getting ready for in-person dining – thank god!’” he said.
Wolf also noted that the switch to in-person seating hasn’t affected his shifts much.
“The only difference is that it takes a little longer to close at night because we have to wash all the dishes and go clean the tables,” he said.
Some students, like Jack Shimkin ’23, have long awaited the chance to sit with their friends during meals.
Even with the practicality and ease of takeout, Shimkin stated that he missed the social engagement of in-person dining.
“Now I’m seeing friends and groups start to meet back together, and it’s encouraging,” he said.
In-person dining also allows for less waste of both food and disposable containers and utensils.
“I am able to get seconds for things much more easily rather than just trying to guess all the amounts of food I want,” Claire Ceske ’23 said.
Ceske also noted that dining halls provide composting bins, while it’s difficult to compost leftovers at home from takeout.
While many students expressed enthusiasm about University dining halls’ return to normal operations, others voiced health and convenience concerns.
Beth Straight ’22 said she prefers takeout because she can do schoolwork as she eats and can avoid the social and pandemic-related pressures that come with eating in a crowded area.
With dining back in-person, Straight stated her wishes for stronger social distancing measures.
“When you go to the dining hall, people are still shoulder-to-shoulder with random strangers, so I think if they were a little more spread out and a little more cautious about sanitizing the areas, that would be better,” she said.
She said that students should do more to make sure their peers are comfortable, explaining that she’s seen some students encroach on others’ space.
Reusable containers remain available for students who want to continue to eat takeout. Straight noted that while dining halls are doing a good job of keeping the reusable containers stocked, they are often missing containers for items like soups or drinks. According to Wolf, dining halls have seen some container shortages due to supply chain issues.
As a vegetarian, the shortages pose problems for Straight when meatless options are limited to soups and sides with the assumption that soups are available for all. Straight explained that when containers are not available and she is doing takeout, she can’t access the food she can eat.
“I can’t take the stew so I can only take things like cauliflower and broccoli, which is not a meal,” she said.
Despite personal preference, she supports the reopening.
“I don’t think reopening was the worst idea,” Straight said. “I think we need a balance between normalcy and caution.”