Campus Bulletin: Current Students, Faculty and Staff, Parents, ObieSafe

Behind the Scenes During the Pandemic: A Focus on Campus Dining Services

March 8, 2021 3:45 PM

Wayne Wood, director of student life auxiliary and special projects

Since the fall reopening, Campus Dining Services has pivoted to a new operating procedure based on physical distancing, all take-out meals, and screening for green passes among all of our guests. Oberlin’s dining partner, AVI Fresh, was tasked with creating a new dining program in the midst of a pandemic.

Fortunately, the AVI Fresh team—all with a strong sense of hospitality and a can-do mentality—made it work. Caleb Crandall, Resident Director for AVI Fresh, discusses the challenges and successes of feeding the campus in a pandemic. 

In what ways has Campus Dining/AVI adapted for the fall re-opening? What things are staff doing differently?

Probably the biggest hurdle was changing mindsets, but communication and training helped in this area. All of our staff—from utility to cooks, line servers and cashiers, to salaried managers—participated in the industry-leading ServSafe COVID-19 training that focused on reopening guidance, takeout meals, delivery, and even conflict de-escalation.

How are you meeting the needs of students in the pandemic?

Hospitality remains first and foremost a priority for us. I remind my team that the root of “restaurant” is “to restore,” and that particular sense of meeting our guests’ needs through food and the engagement of our staff continues, even during a pandemic. We’ve found that the new text line has been a big help. Students and any guest in our dining halls can text 440-577-5304 with any real-time feedback—comments, concerns, and (hopefully!) compliments—and we’re able to respond immediately, usually within 10 minutes or less.

What are some of the behind-the-scenes responsibilities that people on campus don’t know about?

A change from using plate ware, flatware, and cups/mugs in the dining halls to serving everyone with green, reusable containers was a big challenge. We’re sustainably-minded in our work and we knew that existing infrastructure couldn’t handle the massive amounts of paper and cardboard to-go packaging that could have resulted from all take-out meals. But with the assistance of Facilities, Transportation, Grounds, and the Office of Environmental Sustainability, we’ve been able to put the yellow bins in place on campus to make returning these containers as seamless as possible. Our truckers go out daily, sometimes three and four times a day to recover these containers.

Our staff also delivers meals to those in quarantine three times a day. Through communication on both ends, staff meet dietary preferences and put together meal packages that are tasty and nutritious, but also provide variety for those in Fairchild for up to two weeks. Deliveries take a “Knock, Drop, Depart” form: drivers knock on the door, leave the food at the doorstep, and then depart.

What have been some successes for campus dining this year?

We’re so glad to be here, and that in itself has led to our successes in innovation and in providing new dining venues to the college community. Some of the concepts that were supposed to be “temporary” and only in place during the pandemic have proven so popular that we’re continuing them on into the next academic year, like Clarity, our allergen-free kitchen. And other innovations like Cloud-based mobile ordering is on the way, hopefully by fall. Even when physical distancing is no longer necessary, we’re looking at other guest-centric methods to heighten the hospitality experience.