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Penn Dining Services has loosened restrictions to allow more open service options and fewer pre-packaged meals in dining halls.

Credit: Chase Sutton

Penn Dining has increased offerings at various dining halls, moving away from pre-packaged meals to more open service options.

The changes to dining services — which began in late February and will continue through the end of the semester — were implemented to help prepare the dining halls for a return to normal occupancy and operation style in the fall. Changes in Hill House and 1920 Commons include the addition of customizable hot food stations and the reopening of salad, fruit, and pasta bars.

In early April, Commons reopened its Expo station, which allows students to customize their meal with build-your-own sandwiches, tacos, waffles, and more. The dining hall also opened its salad bar and an ice cream freezer. Similarly, Hill House reopened its pasta bar and fruit bar.  

Still, students who get food from these stations must be served by the dining hall staff instead of serving themselves. Students can, however, grab pre-packaged foods — such as wrapped bagels, cereals, and boxed milk — instead of waiting for a staff member to hand them the food, as was required earlier in the semester.

Penn Dining has been slowly shifting towards pre-pandemic service styles in response to changing Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines and a desire to broaden the dining experience, Penn Business Services Director of Communications and External Relations Barbara Lea-Kruger said. 

“Within [CDC] guidelines, we are doing as much as we can to return [dining] to what it should be," Lea-Kruger said. "Every time [the CDC] gives us a little inch, we move that way to help bring it closer to what the full experience should be.”

A better understanding of how COVID-19 spreads has also contributed to the reopening of certain dining services, Director of Business Services and Hospitality Services Pam Lampitt said. 

“We now know that if you touch a bagel that's wrapped, and somebody else comes around and touches that bagel that's wrapped, it's highly unlikely that it's going to cross-contaminate,” Lampitt said. 

Allowing students to take certain pre-packaged items themselves has permitted dining halls to bring back their food bars, Lampitt said. 

 “Packaging food took a lot of time. Without the need to package everything, we now can bring back some of the items that we used to serve,” Lampitt said.

Lampitt added that, overall, the changes to the dining halls have been well received by students.

Nursing first year Cristina Vera said that she liked the recent changes in Commons, particularly the additions of the Expo station and ice cream, although she wishes the changes could have been made earlier. 

“It’s also kind of sad [the changes were] added this late in the semester," Vera said. 

Penn also reopened indoor dining at Hill House, Commons, and Lauder College House dining halls on March 8. Despite the availability of indoor seating, few students have utilized the service, in part due to concerns about eating indoors during the pandemic.

Next semester, Lampitt said that Penn Dining hopes to bring back Penn Cook program events, during which the dining services highlight a different cookbook for almost every month to celebrate the diversity of Penn’s campus. Penn Dining also plans to open a new dining hall in New College House West, which will serve as a demonstration kitchen.

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