Students peruse the Marketplace as they do their best to follow social distancing guidelines.

The Caf during COVID-19: Should we be concerned?

The Evelyn Young Dining Hall (or, as Gusties prefer to it, the Caf) has always been the most prominent spot on campus for student life. It’s where students eat, study and socialize with friends.
There’s something ominous about the way the Caf sucks you in. There have been many times when I’ve gone to breakfast with a friend and ended up staying until dinner. Time doesn’t seem to exist inside that room.
But how has the Caf changed since the pandemic? No more squeezing eight to ten people to a table and definitely no more days spent sitting in those surprisingly comfortable wooden chairs. There’s now a two-people-to-a-table minimum, arrows to limit traffic and what once was the self-serve salad bar now carries pre-packaged salad, toppings and fruit cups.
Despite all of these beneficial changes, many Gusties are wondering if it’s enough.
On Sept. 22, Gustavus held a “Return to Campus” student and family forum in anticipation of the students’ return to campus. There, senior Gustavus leaders assured the community that the dining hall’s new system was working thus far, and was expected to continue working as the rest of the student population returned. The Courtyard Café, the Steamery and the new Firepit Grill were credited with helping keep the Marketplace traffic-free.
Although I acknowledge the Caf has made a lot of good changes in keeping students socially distanced (free to-go containers being one of them) and have provided students with other means of obtaining food, I don’t think the Marketplace has fully lived up to the expectations mentioned in the forum.
For most of the day, the Caf is quite open and easy to walk around without fear of exposure. Dinner rush, however, is another story.
Today, I grabbed food with a friend to eat outside in the courtyard at around 5:40 p.m.
I immediately noticed how difficult it was to navigate the Marketplace while maintaining a distance of six feet from the other hungry students surrounding me. The line to check out was past the salad bar and students were trying to keep their distance the best they could.
Students’ attempts to remain socially distant were mostly unsuccessful as there were just too many students packed into the confined area at once.
“[Dining hall staff] are supposed to limit how many people go [into the Marketplace] at one time,” Junior Marketplace Student Leader Allsion Schulte said.
Since my return to campus, I have not seen this happen. Regulating the traffic within the Marketplace could potentially fix the problem, however, the wait-time for students to receive food could be another cause for concern.
So far, the dinner rush has been the only issue I’ve come across. For how difficult COVID-19 has made everything, I’d say that overall the situation is, for the most part, under control.
However, I can’t imagine that will remain true in the coming months. As the weather gets colder, fewer and fewer people will be willing to eat outside or even carry their food back to their dorms. I know that on cold and windy days it’s much easier to eat in the Caf, rather than carry my food all the way back to my dorm across campus.
How will the dining hall respond to these changes? Can we expect more regulation of traffic within the Marketplace? If so, how will students respond?
It is my hope that the school will address these concerns because, like I said, the Caf is a prominent spot on campus for student life. It’s a high traffic area which means we must all pay close attention to what is working and what is not.
From what I’ve seen so far, I don’t believe the Marketplace during the dinner rush is working. I want to be able to safely grab food from the Caf at any time of day, so I hope this issue can be addressed quickly.

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