On Feb. 15 at 8 AM, Muhlenberg transitioned from Level 3: High Alert, in regards to COVID-19 levels, to Level 2: Moderate, allowing students back into the dining hall for sit-down dining. Since there was only one reported case of COVID on the entire campus during the first week of the semester, the College was able to move to Level 2. Level 2 affords students and staff a bit more flexibility than they had in the first week. Now students can sit and eat in certain areas such as the dining hall, GQ cafe area, and other dining areas throughout Seegers Union, so long as they only take off their mask when actively eating.
The dining hall is a big part of the Muhlenberg experience; from the smiles of the workers to the lively sounds of conversations filling the space, people enjoy being amongst each other when eating, no matter how different things may be. Despite being able to sit down amongst your friends and enjoy a meal, the dining hall isn’t quite the same.
The buffet area is more spaced out, preventing students from coming in close contact with one another. Plus, thick plexiglass dividers are placed at each table protecting diners from each other’s germs, but making conversation amongst your peers a bit more challenging.
“It’s very different,” said Michael Hnatkowsky ‘21, a frequent dining hall attendee who was sitting in the dining hall again after being off-campus for nearly two semesters. “The dining hall is a big part of Muhlenberg culture. Sitting down with friends and really just hanging out, nothing beats it. I understand why we have to do this, but it just isn’t the same experience we’re used to.”
“There are many elements of the dining hall that are still as good as they were before the pandemic,” said Kyle Norton ‘21 who felt that everything was mostly the same. He went on to compliment the food and service of the dining for maintaining their high standard of quality; however, he did touch on one of the main issues with the current dining hall setup.
“The dining hall is a big part of Muhlenberg culture. Sitting down with friends and really just hanging out, nothing beats it. I understand why we have to do this, but it just isn’t the same experience we’re used to.”
“The only thing that is different is once you get to the table, it is difficult to talk with anyone you’re sitting with due to the plexiglass being between you and your friends,” said Hnatkowsky. “Right now, I prefer to take my food to go because it’s tough to hear the people at my table through the plexiglass.” The social element of the dining hall plays a large role in students’ decision to dine-in, but this luxury is the most recent on the list of things COVID has taken from students.
With the new restrictions regarding sit-down dining, the staff has created other ways for people to access their food while remaining safe. The BiteU app now allows students to order their food to go and pick it up at their own convenience. Students can use the BiteU app to select the meals they want and choose what time they wish to pick up their food. Once their order is placed, students are alerted when their food is ready and can go to their pickup location in Seegers to receive their food. The app helps manage the amount of people in the dining hall, while offering students an alternative way to dine. Although it might be convenient to be able to order your food for a certain time and pick it up, the new BiteU app has issues as well.
“The app [menu] is almost never right this semester which I think is surprising because [the regular bite app has] been spot on for the last three years,” said Dalissa Duran ‘21.
When asked whether they would rather dine-in or take their food to go, most students indicated that they would rather swipe in the dining hall and take their food to go. Although he likes to sit down, Norton indicated that once he is done with his sit down meal, he prefers to take his future meals to-go that way he doesn’t have to come back for dinner.
Hnatkowsky also likes to take his meals to go because he has more control over the portion sizes since he can ask the dining hall workers for different amounts, as opposed to having someone in the dining hall prepare his food for him to pick up.
“The staff members are always friendly and helpful if I have a question.”
Although the adjustment period has been new and bizzare, students cannot say enough about the great work the staff has done with making the dining hall easy to navigate and the attitudes of each worker during this very trying time.
“It is very, very easy to navigate through the food area in my opinion,” said Duran. “The staff members are always friendly and helpful if I have a question.”
Norton also spoke on the job the dining hall has done with the new COVID restrictions, stating he feels it is “quite easy to navigate between the dining hall and buffet area.”
Students are more than welcome to order their food through the BiteU app and can order from any of the listed locations on the app such as GQ, Java Joe’s, LSC Cafe and the Berg Underground Kitchen. However, if they are looking to sit down and enjoy a meal amongst their friends, they are going to have to abide by the new guidelines put in place by the College.