A meal plan that serves everything, except the coronavirus

By Evan Fintzy, Photojournalist

Jennifer Chavez

Crowded buffet lines of students and small talk around tables at The CAF, the University Center’s dining hall, have been temporarily traded for grab-and-go meals.

This semester, students with a meal plan must follow new coronavirus guidelines put in place at the University Center, 525 S. State St. These guidelines include taking all meals to-go and following designated paths around The CAF. The sit-down dining area is closed for the time being.

Students were provided with a free to-go container upon move-in and are encouraged to take all meals to-go, said Brooke Lopeman, executive director of the University Center’s parent company Peak Campus, in a Sept. 11 email to the Chronicle.

All food is now served by dining hall team members as students follow designated one-way lanes through The CAF. Once students leave, they cannot go back for seconds unless they swipe their card again, return the used container and receive a new tray.

Before the new regulations, students could walk in with one swipe, grab a plateful of food, sit down, socialize and go back for more.

Zenobiyan Bright, director of dining services at the University Center, said Chartwells Higher Education Dining Services has put in place coronavirus safety protocols and policies with assistance from their Quality Assurance Department, which complies with City of Chicago and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention safety guidelines.

Jonathan Kolo, a freshman exploratory major, said when he moved into the University Center he was given a token and was instructed by University Center staff to swipe his meal card before dropping the token into a box to receive a new green to-go container. If the token is lost, students are charged $2 for the container.

When he finishes getting his food, Kolo has the option of either going back to his room or eating on the terrace—modified for social distancing—with some friends, he said.

Jack Goodman, a freshman theatre design and technology major, said he was unsure about signing up for a meal plan, but said it is convenient not to have to cook during his first semester of college.

When he went to the dining hall for the first time after moving in, he received a pre-packaged set of plastic utensils, salt and pepper.

Kolo said only being allowed to go around the dining hall once will likely not provide him with enough food, and he is worried he will have to buy more outside of his meal plan.

For students living in semi-suite housing accommodations, a full meal plan is required and costs $2,081 per semester, according to Columbia’s website. The full meal plan includes 15 meals per week during the Fall and Spring semesters and $720 in Flex dollars—$360 per semester—which can be used at the dining facility retail store, where students can purchase a variety of fresh and frozen foods and other staples.

Students who purchase the optional meal plan receive 150 meals for the academic year for $1,900, plus $400 in Flex dollars.

Lopeman said the dining area will be open again the week of Sept. 20 with social distancing measures for students who live in a shared unit inside the University Center and for students with a meal plan living outside of the dorm.

However, students living in a single unit at the University Center will continue to be encouraged to eat in their rooms, so the dining area does not become overcrowded.

“The well-being of the students is our primary concern, [and] the meal plan has changed so we can do our part to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 and still offer quality meals to students,” Lopeman said.