Taking out food may help during busy hours in a post-COVID setting.
BY ERICA MUNISAR, STAFF WRITER
George Mason University is one of the biggest colleges in the state of Virginia composed of 27,104 undergraduate students. Of those students, 6,200 students stay on campus. Mason makes meals for on-campus students who have access to three dining halls of Southside, Ike’s and the Globe. Additionally, Mason offers on-the-go options for students called Simply To Go, which is located at Southside.
Mason Dining, “Simply to Go at Gold Rush (bottom floor of Southside) offers convenient meals for customers in a hurry. The grab-and-go menu consists of sandwiches, salads, desserts, and microwaveable meals.” The hours of Gold Rush often vary, and are only open for part of the day.
With a large number of students staying on campus in a post-COVID-19 setting, do the dining halls offer safe measures, especially during busy hours?
Mason Dining released a series of approaches to create a safe dining environment in light of covid. They included steps such as mandatory masks for staff, eliminating self-service options, limited seating options and increased sanitization.
Especially after the COVID-19 pandemic, to-go boxes are an option offered at many different colleges in Virginia. However, it is not currently offered to Mason students. Unless a student is getting food from Gold Rush at Southside, they are required to eat their food in the dining hall and cannot leave the building with it.
William & Mary is a Virginia university that offers to-go boxes for students which are part of its ‘Choose to Reuse’ program. According to William and Mary Dining Services, they said:
“The program offers reusable containers to William & Mary students eating in the dining halls in order to reduce the amount of waste generated from the use of disposable containers.” It explains that students can check out the containers and return them later to the dining halls.
William & Mary’s to-go box service offers many benefits including a feature that allows students to check out their own personal to-go-box instead of sitting down in the dining halls. Additionally, this may help lower the crowd presence in their dining halls during busy hours.
Students weighed in on the idea of a to-go box option, and speak about their experiences with both the dining hall and Gold Rush.
Sophomore Vincent Matamoros, has worked in restaurants for years and finds benefits within the idea of to-go boxes. Matamoros says that the dining halls are crowded, and the current to-go options are not diverse enough for students.
“Dining halls can get very busy most of the time due to the large amount of on-campus students and the convenience of it,” Matamoros commented. “But they can be so overcrowded and overworked that for the last few hours of the work day that almost nothing is in stock at all, even though there’s still a bunch of people that need food.”
Matamoros says that the Gold Rush options are not as large as the dining hall, and may not be fully inclusive to students with allergies.
“Gold Rush is convenient, but there’s a much smaller choice of food, and if the food selections for the day are disagreeable because of allergies or food preference, then you don’t have access to the convenience,” Matamoros said.
With this, Matamoros believes that to-go box options would be a helpful option to both students and the staff at Southside.
“To-go boxes would be much more manageable for the staff since at a certain point the dishes become so overflowed that they switch to paperware while they work on the backload of dishes, and don’t have the time to focus on refilling things like drink machines or food,” Matamoros said.
Junior Thomas Stevens, also thinks that to-go boxes would be helpful. Stevens says that the dining halls have many choices and are often inclusive to students with allergies. ”I used the dining halls in 2019 through 2020 and 2021 through 2022 and liked them well enough. Food options were good and desserts were mostly peanut-free,” Stevens said.
Stevens wishes that Gold Rush would be open more frequently, or that to-go boxes were available because he and others are often in a rush to eat in between classes.
“I’ve used Gold Rush frequently when I’ve had to jump from classes to meetings on short notice, and would love if they were open more frequently,” Stevens said. “I think to-go options are a great idea for people who need meals but are crunched for time, which is more and more the case”.
Sophomore Evanna Koury is the Undersecretary of Dining Services at Mason and believes there is potential for improvement at the dining halls.
“My job is to be a student-Sodexo liaison. I represent the student body when talking to Sodexo, and I give the student body the resources they need for anything dining-related,” Koury says. “Because of a chronic, disabling neurological condition I have, I’m allergic to many foods and additives, like MSG. This means the dining halls aren’t very accessible to me, and I’m working to change that for people like me. Anyone can email me at ‘email@example.com’ with concerns about dining”.
Koury thinks that students would be happy with to-go boxes in dining halls and would like to see this change. “I don’t utilize Gold Rush, but most students have told me they enjoy the addition. I think to-go boxes would be a fantastic addition to the dining experience here at Mason. This would help lessen the amount of students in the dining halls.”
Weighing the costs and benefits of to-go boxes at dining halls in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, students believe to-go boxes may act as an additional safety measure to combat crowded seating.