By Emma Vallelunga
On-campus food and dining is different at SUNY Plattsburgh during the coronavirus pandemic. Some aspects have changed, some remain the same and some might never return.
VENUES CUT IN HALF
Before distance learning began last semester, there were eight dining venues on campus: Clinton Dining Hall, The Sundowner, Subway, Scoops, Griddles/Sono, Einstein’s Bros. Bagels, Tim Horton’s and Samuel D’s. This semester, only four remain. The locations of Subway, Scoops and Griddles/Sono have been closed.
College Auxiliary Services Director Dana Kellerman said this change was brought on by a few different factors, and the venues that SUNY Plattsburgh did close had been decreasing in popularity for a while. They were not closed solely because of the pandemic.
“We track all the metrics of the students going in,” Kellerman said. “They were closed because of a decrease in attendance.”
The Dining Advisory Committee is a subcommittee within CAS made up of a small group of rotating students, a few dining associates and campus dietician Jeff Vallee. The DAC gives feedback to CAS about which services are doing well and which ones are not.
“The goal of the DAC is to find that really nice balance where it allows us to project the best cost at the greatest value in options,” Vallee said.
But while Subway and Scoops have closed, the menus of Griddles/Sono are still available. Items like Griddles breakfast sandwiches, Sono burrito bowls and Scoops ice cream have moved to The Sundowner. Vallee said closing the venues and moving the items from one location to another evens out sales and traffic.
“We’re not losing Griddles,” Vallee said. “We’re bringing the concept over to the Sundowner. I didn’t have an issue with that, and neither did the [DAC] students. The only thing we’ve really lost is Subway.”
With fewer dining options, SUNY Plattsburgh, like many other SUNYs, had to raise their student meal plan costs by 4% due to COVID-19 and the rise in food costs across the U.S. by 4.1%. Kellerman said there are no plans to move any other dining venue into the space where Subway and Griddles/Sono used to be, also known as Burghy’s. It remains as additional seating in case of overcapacity in The Sundowner.
Kellerman also said Burghy’s and Scoops inside the Campus Express Store have the potential to be turned into a lounge space or spare cooking class kitchens, but the Student Association will decide what becomes of those spaces.
CAFE OPENING SOON
However, one new dining venue is supposed to open this semester. Kent Hall’s renovation was finished this summer, and a dining space that overlooks the Saranac River was built into the basement. Kent Cafe will serve fresh sandwiches, soups and more. It will reflect a similar menu to the former Little Al’s location attached to Algonquin Dining Hall. Little Al’s officially closed at the end of last semester, and Algonquin has been closed since 2018.
Vallee said a majority of Little Al’s customers were Anytime Meal Plan holders, which means students could get as much as a New-York-style deli sandwich, two choices of sides, a dessert and a drink for a single retail swipe.
“With everything going on, I think Kent [Cafe] has the opportunity to be [popular],” Vallee said. “Everyone that I had ever shown Little Al’s to were always blown away, because for what you get and what you pay for, [it] could basically be two meals. They saw the value in it, but they never knew it was there.”
But Kent Cafe is not open yet. The venue experienced some delays, according to Kellerman. While construction on the space was finished, the equipment installation was delayed due to the pandemic. Once the cafe is equipped and the health inspection passed, Kent Cafe is scheduled to open by early October if no other plans are postponed.
“We’re all keeping our fingers crossed that as soon as that stuff is in there, we can train the dining associates on the new menu and get it running,” Kellerman said.
Every dining venue on campus has adopted new restrictions to comply with COVID-19 safety precautions. Face coverings are required upon entering the venue and can be removed while sitting and eating. Tables have been reconfigured six-feet or more apart to comply with social distancing protocols. Enhanced cleaning procedures, such as frequently wiping down tables and high-touch areas, have been implemented, and PPE like masks, gloves and plastic partitions have been provided for employee safety. Clinton, where the hall was renovated to accommodate a buffet-style and self-service dining experience, has now reverted back to service stations. Dining employees serve customers everything on paper or plastic, including drinks. There are no more dishes or silverware to wash.
“[New York State Department of Health] required for dining services [on campuses] that were going to continue to serve to reduce their capacity by 50%,” Kellerman said. “Students have been great by abiding by that.”
CAS has also continued to allow sick students to use their online ordering service through Chartwells. The service is reserved for students who may be quarantined or in isolation due to COVID-19.
“Every morning, they can go in, see the menu for breakfast, lunch or dinner, and then we deliver it,” Kellerman said. “We implemented it right before COVID-19, because we had a few students who got sick, and it’s worked pretty well.”
Clinton is also known for throwing themed dinners and entertainment, or legacy events, every semester with holidays like Oktoberfest or Mardi Gras to give students a more fun dining experience. But due to COVID-19, those dinners may have to wait.
“Typically, the biggest take-away from a legacy event is the social aspect,” Vallee said. “It has entertainment, it has activities, and it’s packed. We won’t be doing it the same, but I see us doing the same menu for a day. Focus on the food but not so much the entertainment.”
Kellerman is hopeful that on-campus dining will continue to be enjoyable for students despite the inconvenience of closed venues and less options that the pandemic has brought to so many college campuses nationwide.
“For us, a lot of it has been really trying to make sure that from a dietary perspective, we’re able to continue to provide good service, make sure students have a variety with healthy meals and as much farm fresh goods as we can,” Kellerman said.