On Monday, the College opened Thorne dining hall for indoor dining for on-campus students. For months, students have picked up meals from Thorne and Moulton dining halls, filing through the six feet apart stickers, grabbing to-go meals without a salad bar and choosing items from a snack section in lieu of the usual SuperSnack.
Now, two months into the semester, Thorne is open for indoor dining, with limited spots available through reservation.
“About two weeks ago we started talking about [opening up indoor dining] with the dean’s office because they said that they heard it was one of the number-one requests from students,” said Tricia Gipson, assistant director of business services and dining services, in a Zoom interview with the Orient.
The decision comes after Governor Janet Mills announced that indoor venues such as churches and movie theaters would be allowed to open to 50 percent capacity or 100 people, whichever was fewer. These factors, along with general compliance with the College’s COVID-19 rules and no additional active cases on campus, led the College to greenlight the plan.
“We want to see the students. We miss them in here. [Our staff] want to ultimately get back to ‘normal,’ whatever that is, but we’re a ways off,” Gipson said.
While this change is certainly a step in the direction of normalcy, there are notable differences from a pre-COVID dine-in experience. For one, students must make a reservation in advance and are limited to two reservations per week. At the time of their reservation, students get their food in take-out containers on trays, which serve as their “ticket” into the dining hall, and they are only permitted to go through the line once, leaving no possibilities for seconds. There are only two seats per table, spaced six feet apart. While students are permitted to stay as long as the dining hall opens, once they have finished eating, they are required to wear a mask.
On top of these precautions, the College also conducted an airflow test in preparation for reopening to ensure ventilation would be adequate.
Kimiye Blakely ’23, who had dinner at Thorne on Wednesday, appreciated the semblance of a normal semester created by partly restoring a quintessential social function.
“I was excited to have a dining experience with some degree of normalcy,” said Blakely. “I was surprised that there weren’t more people who made reservations this week; perhaps it was because we couldn’t go in groups.”
Others, such as Joosep Võrno ’22, reminisced about meals with crowds congregating in dining halls but welcomed the added convenience.
“It wasn’t so much the situation itself but rather the memories of the past that contrasted this experience. [Dining hall staff] are doing a really good job, but it’s certainly a curious feeling to be seated so far apart. But I’m sure as more people make reservations, it’ll definitely be less of a strange experience,” said Võrno. “The food is a lot warmer than having to carry it all the way back to Brunswick Apartments, though.”
Isaac Aldrich, culinary manager to Dining Services, assured that adjustments are on the way as the situation evolves.
“I’m sure the process that we have will be evolving as we learn and go, but we feel we have a good set up now,” he said in a Zoom interview with the Orient.
Tianyi Xu contributed to this report.