Due to recent COVID-19 restrictions, key features of the Hillsdale dining experience have been drastically altered. Gone are the days of people-watching in the Knorr Family Dining Room to your heart’s content. Wish you could lightly brush Bobby’s hand as he hands you some tater tots? You might have to wait a few weeks.
New dining guidelines include 50% occupancy in the dining hall, ‘to-go’ boxes, and individually packaged meals. The expected, but irregular nature of Hillsdale’s new dining procedures this semester has sent students into a frenzy, many citing fewer meal choices or inconvenient seating arrangements as frustrating obstacles to their semester.
More changes include the renovation of Jitters Coffee into a grab-and-go station, denying some students their morning caffeine buzz. While limited access to coffee does appear apocalyptic, something tells me we’ll pull through.
These changes might just be a blessing in disguise.
Per the Hillsdale College return-plan website, “food and cafeteria services will continue to operate in the same spirit with alterations and additions made as necessary to enhance current sanitary protocols.”
Students no longer need permission to obtain a ‘to-go’ box in Bon Appetit. Now, they’re free to take food and go as they please. In fact, take-out options are being widely encouraged with the addition of three new grab-and-go stations around campus.
Now, students aren’t limited to the confines of a dining hall — and I don’t think that’s a bad thing. Lately, the quad has been bustling with students enjoying mid-day picnics and sunset snacks. After being away from each other for so long, it’s nice to share meals outside, surrounded by the beauty of our campus.
As they adjust to the ‘new normal,’ some students have raised complaints regarding the nature of the new dining experience. While complaints could be attributed to the general ‘down with authority’ mentality shared by many students, the little variety in meals, less opportunities for coffee, and diminished food service in AJ’s Cafe are legitimate concerns.
In reality though, Hillsdale’s new dining protocol hardly limits students. If anything, students have more autonomy with extended dining hours and pre-packaged meals.
We’re no longer limited to one location and strict two-hour time windows for meals. If you have a class to get to or a meeting that ran late, no worries! Run down to the dining hall to get a quick, or full, meal that you can take out and eat whenever is most convenient for you. Only have 10 minutes between class periods? Luckily, there are three grab-and-go locations around campus to choose from.
Maybe we should consider keeping some of the changes, post-COVID-19. New seating arrangements foster a unique sense of community — one that’s only made possible with to-go options. While the table gives a strong sense of togetherness, that can be recreated with meals anywhere on campus, like behind Central Hall. Dorm resident assistants also started a ‘Hillsdining’ schedule that encourages students to eat their dinner on the lawn of different dorms every Thursday, giving them a chance to meet new people and catch up with old friends.
Furthermore, the accessibility of multiple grab-and-go stations is convenient for students who might not otherwise have time to eat. Sure, the school could explore environmentally-friendly to-go containers and should re-convert Jitter’s Cafe to a coffee shop, but overall the dining changes are a net benefit for the college.
Of course, I can’t wait for the day when the smell of a cheese quesadilla wafts from AJ’s Cafe once again. But right now, if the current options are necessary to continue in person, count me in.
I’d take a pre-packaged salad over a Michelin star meal if it meant in-person classes. Hillsdale is one of the few institutions conducting business as usual this fall — we should consider it a blessing that things look different this year. We should consider it a blessing that we’re here to witness it at all.
The new changes aren’t ideal, but we’d be wise to remember the old proverb “don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.” With hundreds of universities shutting their doors to students this semester, be grateful that the doors to Knorr remain open.
We’re here, we’re healthy, we’re together. Let’s count our blessings this semester — not demand more.
Haley Strack is a sophomore studying Political Economy.