Let's eat

Dave Annis, University of Nebraska-Lincoln director of Dining Services, has spent his summer working to ensure on-campus dining will remain as accessible as possible this fall.

Despite the restrictions placed on Dining Services due to the coronavirus, Annis said there are many changes being made to dining that he’s looking forward to.

One change being introduced this year is Dining Dollars, a new addition to meal plans that allows students to purchase $250, $300 or $600 worth of Dining Dollars per semester that can be used at dining centers, Herbie’s Markets and participating restaurants in the Nebraska Union. All but two meal plans will include both Dining Dollars and meal swipes. 

There will also no longer be a lockout on meal swipes, meaning students can use more than one swipe per meal period. Students will purchase meal plans with a set number of swipes per week and can use them however they choose. The only limitations are a cap of three swipes per meal period and that only one swipe per period can be used at a Herbie’s Market, Annis said in an email.

“We’re hoping students will like the flexibility,” Annis said. “Parents are confused by it, so that means students ought to love it.”

Mobile ordering, which was pioneered at kiosks on East Campus during the spring semester, will be integrated into most of the restaurants inside the union, Annis said. Students can access their meal plans or Dining Dollars balance through the Transact Mobile Ordering app and order ahead for pick-up during late-night hours at the dining centers or union restaurants, excluding Imperial Palace.

Some dining centers, like Cather and Harper, will also begin offering late-night dining options this fall. From 8:30-11 p.m., students can order from their phones and pick up meals at the dining centers, but there will be no in-person ordering during those hours.

Although the $4.4 million renovation of Selleck Dining Center is on pause due to the coronavirus, Annis said he and his staff were still able to convert Selleck into a food-court style center, with seven different types of restaurants inside, including a Qdoba.

“Because of COVID-19, we had to put our renovation on hold,” Annis said. “But it also gave us an opportunity to look at Selleck and how we can best take care of students this fall.”

Annis said the current physical layout of Selleck, while not ideal, will require minimal adjustments to serve the purpose of the different restaurant areas.

“I think it will be a nice variety of food,” he said.

The new varieties available at Selleck can be purchased using Dining Dollars, credit and debit cards or meal swipe exchanges for up to $8 worth of food. However, students wishing to buy food from Selleck must order remotely through the app and cannot order in person.

Gina Guernsey, Selleck Dining Center manager, said that while there’s enough full-time staff at Selleck to work on production and preparation for the different restaurants, the center will depend on student workers to hand out the meals.

“Considering we’ve been the busiest dining hall due to our location, it’ll be interesting,” Guernsey said. “We’re ready to get it started.”

While dine-in will still be an option at each of the dining centers, available seating has been significantly reduced to accommodate for social distancing, Annis said. No more than eight seats will be at one table, and the tables are separated by 6 feet of distance, per the guidelines of the Lincoln-Lancaster County Health Department.

Self-service will no longer be available. Students will instead have their food served to them by dining center staff, Annis said. Needing servers at each food station reduces the amount of staff available to work on producing the food, resulting in a more simplified menu, Annis said.

Annis said Dining Services is still figuring out how to provide food for students that may have to self-isolate due to exposure to the coronavirus. In that case, he said, it is still the duty of Dining Services to ensure those individuals are provided with food.

Several components of the changes made to dining — such as Selleck’s renewed options and mobile ordering — were part of dining’s plans for the future to begin with, Annis said. This made tackling the necessary changes easier in some ways, he said, because they had already begun the process and just had to accelerate the timetable.

“Other universities have been doing this for years, and we’re a little bit behind what’s happening on a contemporary college campus,” Annis said. “We had a five-year plan to get us caught up with the rest of the Big Ten, and this will get us pretty far down the road.”

Annis said that all dining employees will be wearing masks and screened for symptoms every morning before work, but he is still concerned for their well-being this fall.

“My biggest worry is keeping my staff together and whole,” Annis said. “I lose more sleep over that than anything else.”

While Annis said his staff has been doing a great job working safely so far, a lot of them are nervous about the fall semester. On a normal day, he said 1,000 students will come through a staff member’s line, and there are concerns students might not take the pandemic guidelines seriously.

“I hope the students come to understand that they’re a big part of keeping the staff safe,” Annis said.