Living during the COVID-19 pandemic means some daily activities that were once trivial have now become complicated. Going grocery shopping has become something of an expedition and many restaurants have needed to take drastic measures to stay afloat. Throughout these changes to daily life, on-campus students have noticed that their primary source of food—the New College Cafe operated by Metz Culinary Management—has undergone a series of changes in order to safely operate this year. Halfway into the fall semester, students are still adjusting to reduced weekend hours and the loss of Boar’s Head Deli, and many still have unanswered questions about the promised Metz online ordering service and the requirement for off-campus students to pay for meal plans.
While many campus services were suspended in March following the campus shutdown, Metz General Manager Bill Moore said that Metz remained operational until August with limited food after May 15 in order to serve the remaining students on campus. In addition, all staff were laid off from March 15 to August 4, with a staff reduction in place for the foreseeable future.
“With the reduction in students we also had to reduce staff, chefs and student workers,” Moore said. “We cut hours and tried to keep as much of the staff as possible. We let more of the part time workers go.”
Fewer students on campus also means less revenue, which is what led to the Boar’s Head Deli and C-Store closing this year. To temporarily replace it, shelves of snacks and dry goods are brought out during lunch and dinner hours.
“The college and Metz are great partners and both are trying to make it feasible for the other,” Moore said. “We do have a mini store to help with [apartment] plans and others that enjoy cooking in their rooms.”
The greatest catalyst for change this year, however, was the safety precautions needed to ensure that food could continue to be safely sold in person. Hamilton “Ham” Center is now decked out in signs reminding students to wear masks, stickers on the floor to ensure safe physical distances while students wait in line and plastic barriers separating employees from students at every food station and cash register.
Employees are also expected to wear masks at all times. A few have also donned face shields, barring one incident a few weeks into classes.
“We were on our lunch break [and] it was the chef’s last day here,” Moore said. “The staff wanted a picture with him. There were no students in our location, so we took off our masks, took a picture and put our masks back on and sat down.”
While brief as Moore tells it, this incident still resulted in a meeting among Metz staff members to clarify that masks would be worn without exception on campus and in the kitchen.
Metz also announced plans to follow in the footsteps of many restaurants during COVID-19 and implement an online ordering system. Students expected in early August that they would be able to order food from Metz online during the weekend and then pick it up within a certain time frame. As midterms approach, no such system has been solidified yet.
“The college and Metz are working together to make this a seamless transition for the students,” Moore said. “We want everything to be worked out so we don’t have issues when we go live. It will happen very soon.”
Although the date that online ordering will become available is unclear, Moore said that it will be in effect from Nov. 30 to Dec. 8 and Jan. 3–27 for any students that may hypothetically remain on campus after Thanksgiving or during Independent Study Projects (ISPs). Students will be able to order brunch by 9:30 a.m. and pick it up between 11 a.m. and 12 p.m. on the weekends. Dinner will be ordered in the same way by 2 p.m. and picked up between 4 p.m. and 5 p.m.. Until then, Metz weekend hours will be at these proposed pick-up times.
In the meantime, the recently elected food service representative, third-year student Dominic Grijalva, is looking to get more information about online ordering as well as provide the feedback he’s collected thus far to Metz. Grijalva has already attended one monthly Dining Committee meeting this semester before he was elected to the position but aims to increase their frequency as food service representative.
“I’m trying to get a packet of things I’ve noticed to send in the meantime just to see if I can get another meeting sooner,” said Grijalva. “I think there are certain things you shouldn’t have to be a head chef to keep up to standards.”
Some of the feedback Grijalva has compiled so far is from visiting Ham directly and trying to sample different food items each time, but much of it is from a survey that he sent to the student email list on Sept. 19. The survey asked students to rate their satisfaction with Ham breakfast, brunch, lunch and dinner on a scale of one through five—one being least satisfied and five being most satisfied—and to include any additional comments they had about weekday or weekend hours or the food in general.
Grijalva received 59 responses, with each meal typically rated “three or below.” The lowest ratings he found were the Metz breakfast, which had 37 out of 51 responses (72.5%) rate it a three or below, and Metz lunch with 40 out of 56 responses (71.4%) rating the same. The most common complaints shared on the survey about Ham food was the lack of vegetables and the portions not matching the prices.
Since sending out that survey, Grijalva says that he’s also received a few emails with two to three pages worth of additional feedback, with a resounding negative response to Metz’s limited hours.
“From what I’ve been told in the past, it’s been a hard ‘no’ to expanding hours, they just want to move them around,” Grijalva said. “But that’s a hill I’m willing to die on. You should be able to access food—not at all hours, I understand that it’s a small school. But to require a meal plan and then not have acceptable hours for everybody kind of grinds my gears.”
Grijalva says that one of the first emails he received was from a student complaining that the Metz Cafe doors would shut on weeknights at 6:30 pm on the dot, leaving some students with no chance to get dinner.
“What are students supposed to do after 6:30 p.m.?” Grijalva said. “They have to eat. Not only [from] a moral standpoint, but as a legit business practice, how could you not want to feed these kids more?”
Many off-campus students also have complaints, particularly about the requirement that they pay for a meal plan despite not having the same access to Metz as on-campus students. However, Moore says that this was a decision made by the housing department at New College. Senior Associate Dean for Student Affairs, Mark Stier, was unable to comment. Grijalva says that reducing the meal plan requirement for off-campus students is being considered, but much of it is still a work of progress.
Grijalva plans to send out a second open-ended survey in order to collect more feedback, and in the meantime asks students to email him with any complaints, questions or suggestions.
“I want to hear about it,” said Grijalva. “Even if it’s something small, it could make a small difference or even a bigger, larger difference. We’re all in the same boat, so please keep sending emails.”