Sodexo implements changes to combat COVID-19

The dining hall in Missouri Hall is closed for the 2020-21 academic year, and the dining areas that remain open have new restrictions regarding COVID-19 precautions. 

Some of the changes include socially distanced tables, plastic dividers on tables and around cashiers, social distancing markers on the floor, more hand sanitizer dispensers and no more self-serve options. 

Sodexo General Manager John Stewart said the discussion about closing Missouri’s dining hall started late May, and the decision to close was based on staffing, affordability for students and safety concerns.

Stewart said he chose Missouri hall to be closed because of its square footage. The dining halls were reorganized to maintain social distancing and the Ryle Hall dining hall can fit about 175 seats and the Centennial Hall dining hall can fit about 110. This also allows a dining hall on each side of campus.

He said ensuring distance between the tables and maximizing the number of seats was the hardest part of the planning process. 

“It was painful to close our most remodeled dining hall, but if we tried to space the tables out we would have been able to fit maybe 80 people at maximum,” Stewart said. 

Missouri Hall’s dining area was renovated in the summer of 2018, the general manager at the time, Justin Dreslinski, said the renovation was cosmetic changes and infrastructure repairs with a budget of about $4.3 million all together.

Stewart said Sodexo is working with lower student enrollment this semester, so it had to make cuts to keep meal plans affordable. Closing Missouri Hall’s dining hall, Stewart said, will help to maintain costs.

He also said with more staff at the Ryle and Centennial dining halls, Sodexo can control those settings better and still be able to serve all the options previously available. 

Stewart said all the hourly workers who worked at MO Hall have been moved to other parts of campus, mainly to Ryle. 

As for the dining halls that are still open, there is now a dedicated 30 minute period at the beginning of each meal time for students to carry-out. Students can also carry out now anytime the dining halls are open. 

Self service stations are now monitored and handled by staff. Staff pours the beverages and serves all hot food, ice cream, and salad. The only thing that is self-serve are desserts and fruit, which is covered with plastic wrap.

Stewart said the plastic barriers that divide the tables are plastic wrap that is replaced as frequently as they need to be, or when they appear dirty.

“A lot of the students are using our carry out options at this time,” Stewart said. “We are beginning to see a few more students dining in, however we still have plenty of seating available.”

Stewart said he is concerned for the safety of everyone and the changes are not to  inconvenience customers but to focus on safety.

“I think we did everything that was in our control and we were prepared to welcome the students coming back to campus,”  Sodexo Operations Manager Elina Manandhar said.

Manandhar said as the days move forward people are understanding it is for the safety of the people on campus.

“Everything is changing,” Manandhar said. “[We are] trying to make the students and everyone understand that whatever we are doing is to keep them safe.”