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A student taking out food from Hill Dining Hall on Jan.14, 2021. Credit: Kylie Cooper

As the spring 2022 semester begins online, residential dining halls will suspend indoor dining and operate with a grab-and-go "takeout" system for the foreseeable future. 

Top University administrators announced this change in a message to the Penn community on Dec. 23, and wrote that grab-and-go would remain "pending further evaluation of the case trends." Director of Business Services Pam Lampitt said that this system will differ slightly from the grab-and-go dining system used in spring 2021

This semester, students will enter the dining hall as normal — but they will either bring their own Green2Go container, or the dining staff will provide them with one. Students will then be able to walk around various stations in the dining halls to choose their meals.

“When we did grab-and-go the first time, there were so many small containers, so many that students needed a bag to walk out and carry their stuff. We tried giving reusable bags, but students didn’t bring them back again. So we’re trying to figure out a way so that we can have one container and one beverage so they can handle it better,” Lampitt said. 

She emphasized that students should be mindful of the amount of food they pick, since they will have to carry out whatever they choose — unlike in spring 2021, when Penn Dining reusable bags and paper bags were available.

“It's 'to-go,' so it's like any other place where you get takeout food — you're going to have a lot of different things and we are not giving you a bag,” she said. 

While this program has been implemented before in most residential dining halls across campus, Quaker Kitchen is an exception — as New College House West only opened in fall 2021.

Quaker Kitchen, located in NCHW, serves restaurant-style dinners based on a reservation system in the Penn Eats app. Since the University is transitioning to grab-and-go dining for the semester, Quaker Kitchen Chef Daniel Stern at Quaker Kitchen is in the process of altering his menu to fit the system.

“We discouraged people from going to [Quaker Kitchen] with Green2Go containers because his food is not produced to be portable. He's reworking the menus to make sure that whatever he's producing is portable,” Lampitt said. 

Some first- and second-year students — who are still required to be on a meal plan for the spring semester — have expressed frustration over the transition back to grab-and-go dining. 

College sophomore Will Shaughnessy, who is also an athlete on the men’s cross country team, said that he wasn't happy with the dining hall system in spring 2021.

“As an athlete, I never really felt satisfied with a grab-and-go meal last spring, it was always kind of like going to get food became a chore and something that I kind of dreaded because I knew the quality of food would be bad and I wasn’t going to get a lot of it,” he said. 

In February 2021, Penn announced that sophomores would be required to purchase a dining plan beginning in the fall, which was met with backlash and confusion from many students. Shaughnessy said that grab-and-go dining made the requirement especially frustrating. 

“If they’re going to force us to be on a plan, they can’t ration out the food to people,” he said. 

College first-year Logan Fleming said that he had similar concerns and added that grab-and-go dining could be challenging because he worries he might disturb his roommate by eating breakfast in his dorm.

“I don’t want to have to eat a lot of meals in my dorm,” Fleming said. “It’s kind of odd that out of all the things, dining is not in person, since we’re coming back. I get it if they made it grab-and-go until the 24th when classes become in person, but it’s kind of weird they haven’t said anything."

Director of Communications and External Relations Barbara Lea-Kruger said that the decision was prompted by the University, and added that she doesn’t know when dining will return to normal.

“I think it's when we get back to positivity rate that we were basically at when the last semester ended. Whenever they tell us we can go back to normal, we'll be ready. I don't think anyone knows that yet," Lea-Kruger said. 

During the week of Jan. 2 to Jan. 8, 1,281 members of the Penn community tested positive, and the COVID-19 positivity rate was 13.22% — slightly down from 15.89% the prior week. 

"We have to get everybody back and tested and figure out what the positivity rate is,” Lea-Kruger said. “Until then, we're trying to make it as similar as we could to last semester except that instead of sitting down in the dining hall, you're taking your meal and sitting somewhere else,” she added.