Penn opened indoor dining at select dining halls three weeks ago — but few students have used the service, with some saying they feel uncomfortable eating indoors during the pandemic.
There are generally “less than a dozen students” in the dining halls every day, many of whom go to eat breakfast, Penn Business Services Director of Communications and External Relations Barbara Lea-Kruger wrote in an email to The Daily Pennsylvanian on March 22.
Starting on March 8, students have been able to reserve 30-minute timeslots for indoor dining at 1920 Commons, Hill House, and Lauder College House dining halls. Students must eat alone at a table that is distanced from other students and wear a face mask when not eating or drinking.
Kruger suggested that the warmer weather may be a reason why students opt not to eat inside at the dining halls. Despite the small number of students using indoor seating in the dining halls, Kruger wrote that indoor dining will soon also be available at Falk Dining Commons.
Wharton first year Corrine Yuan expressed confusion about another dining hall opening for indoor seating, especially when few students use the service. She added that the increasing number of COVID-19 cases on campus as a result of student travel over last week’s “Spring Stay” days is another concern.
“Kids are coming back from Miami, they're coming back from New York, and then you encourage them to take their masks off — it's kind of a little bit foolish,” she said.
Yuan, who is currently required to be on a dining plan as a first year, said she has not utilized the indoor dining option. She said she does not feel comfortable sitting inside because of COVID-19 concerns, particularly because students would be moving around and picking up food near her.
“I’m a bit [COVID-19] conscious and tend to not eat out unless it's outdoor dining. So I guess the same logic applies for indoor dining because I don't think it's safe enough to be taking off my mask,” she said.
College first year Bo Wen Zhu also expressed his dissatisfaction with the new indoor dining service. He said he has a problem with Penn’s indoor dining setup because the individual seating is close to high-traffic areas where students get their grab-and-go food.
In Hill, indoor dining tables are placed in the center of Hill House. The area is public, which Zhu said makes him uncomfortable because everyone is able to watch him eat.
“When you’re alone, everyone has a full view of what you are doing, and that just takes away from the eating experience,” Zhu said.
Like Yuan, Zhu said he sees no incentive to utilize indoor seating.
“In normal times, the dining hall was a choice if [one] wanted to be with people. The moment Penn turned the dining hall as another choice to eat alone, that’s redundancy, [since one’s] room is a much better option,” he said.
Zhu hopes that Penn can try to find ways to allow indoor dining in groups, adding that dining halls could provide bigger tables so that multiple people could sit together while still adhering to social distancing guidelines.
College first year Chapin Lenthall-Cleary is one of few students that has participated in indoor dining. He decided to dine in Hill House last weekend for a change of pace from eating inside his room in Lauder College House.
Lenthall-Cleary described the experience as “oddly nice,” since it was a change from his regular routine. He said it was unfortunate, however, that he wasn’t able to meet new people through the experience.
“There’s not a whole lot of point if it’s just people [eating] alone,” Lenthall-Cleary said. “I’ve also never seen anyone else [doing indoor dining] when I go to Hill to pick up food. It’s disappointing."
Due to the low numbers of students participating in indoor dining, Lenthall-Cleary said he hopes Penn makes more of an effort to encourage students to dine outdoors as the weather gets warmer, providing more opportunities for students to socialize outside of their pods.
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