New dining hall policies reduce seating and hours, station staff to enforce distancing


Daily file photo by Evan Robinson-Johnson

To visit any dining hall on campus, students have to make reservations, which are spaced out in 15-minute intervals and have a cap of 40 to 50 students each.

Maia Pandey, Reporter

As Northwestern Dining ramps up its efforts to enforce social distancing and reduce crowds in dining halls across campus, some students say they are struggling to find open reservation slots to pick up meals.

In a Feb. 12 email, NU Dining announced it would reduce seating and opening hours at Foster-Walker Complex West, and would offer a new “to-go” meal experience. NU Dining aso said it would limit seating in Allison Dining Hall, Elder Dining Hall and Norris University Center. Dining room monitors have also been stationed to check dining reservations, face mask compliance and proper distancing between tables.

“We are taking precautions to keep you safe but sharing a meal with someone you do not live with increases the risk of contracting COVID-19,” the email said. “Your risk increases the longer you remain in a dining hall where other diners have their masks off.”

Since the beginning of the quarter, students have had to make online reservations to visit any dining hall on campus. Time slots are spread out by 15 minutes, and each has a cap of 40 to 50 students, depending on the location. Students have collectively made over 105,000 reservations this quarter, NU Dining said in the email.

Weinberg freshman Naomi Gizaw, who lives and eats at Sargent Hall, said lines stretched out the door early in the quarter before staff began regularly checking and reinforcing the reservation requirement. While the lines are shorter now, Gizaw said the slots fill up quickly, and it’s difficult to remember to make reservations every morning on top of classes and schoolwork.

“I would say lunchtime is the hardest to get a reservation. From 11:45 to 12:30 is usually booked if you don’t (make a reservation) ahead of time,” Gizaw said. “Sometimes I’ll have to skip lunch because I didn’t get a reservation.”

Some students have begun asking their friends for screenshots of reservations to show at the door when they are unable to make their own, Gizaw said. A system where students who want meals to-go can make separate reservations from those who want to dine-in might be better, she added.

McCormick freshman Maria Fernandez, who lives in Sargent and eats primarily at the Sargent and Elder dining halls, also said that she has had to push back a meal or trek to another dining hall because of filled reservations. However, Fernandez said, she appreciates the new rules because even after the crowds of the first few days had dissipated, students were still moving chairs and pushing tables together.

“In the beginning, I feel like they weren’t strict enough,” Fernandez said. “It was insane because there were massive crowds of people just all over the dining hall, and that was a little uncomfortable.”

In recent weeks, dining hall monitors have been walking through the dining rooms and telling students to limit themselves to two per table, she said. Especially as the campus positivity rate has spiked in the last week because inclement weather limited the number of processed tests, Fernandez said the increased rule enforcement has been encouraging.

“I like the food, I like the music and I feel comfortable eating in now,” she said.

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Twitter: @maiapandey

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