UTK has faced numerous challenges this semester, and one would have to be living under Volunteer Boulevard’s rock to not be aware of the recent dining complications. For nearly a month, UT students have been subjected to early closings of dining halls, long lines, limited time to eat and out of stock food items as a result of the ongoing staff shortage.
However, UT is not the only school confronted by this dining crisis. Due to the strain placed on the food service industry since the rise of COVID-19, Vanderbilt University has had to adapt to both limited staffing and limited supply.
As with fellow Volunteers, Vandy students have reported extremely long lines and little food variety, given that dining hall workers do not have the time or ingredients necessary to accommodate students' dietary restrictions. Moreover, many dining halls have also had to operate on irregular hours and close early, forcing students to go off campus and use their own funds to purchase food.
This issue was further compounded by 50% capacity seating policies and the elimination of self-serving dining in E. Bronson Ingram Dining Hall. With roped off seating areas, many students have not had adequate conditions to eat even when the dining halls were open.
Rachael Perrotta, a sophomore and contributor of the Vanderbilt Hustler, spoke about her experience in dining facilities.
“Personally, the seating changes in the dining halls have been frustrating because indoor social distancing isn't required in any other spaces, and it also makes it more difficult to find a spot to eat. I've been bringing my food back to my dorm more often than not recently,” Perrotta said.
After facing a great deal of backlash, Campus Dining responded by implementing additional service lines and on-campus commissary kitchens. Vanderbilt’s most impactful attempt at attaining dining stability, however, was the $50 a day installment plan offered to students.
On Aug. 31, Campus Dining released an official statement regarding this new plan.
“As you may know, our dining program started the semester with a number of challenges, including staffing and supply chain issues. While our operations remained open to students, we extended a $50 daily meal credit for students to use off-campus; this allowed our dining halls to restock and recalibrate for this week’s meal service. In addition, we’re glad that our students had the added benefit of experiencing firsthand the amazing food culture here in the Nashville area," Campus Dining said.
For most college students, it is common to be living on minimum wage and instant noodles, but how are residents now handling this sudden possession of money, let alone having so much of it, to spend every day on whatever food they please?
In some ways, this credit has been considerably beneficial. For many Taste of Nashville restaurants, business had been booming more substantially than usual with the influx of students. Additionally, students have also been leaving lofty tips for their meals, believing that doing so is a better alternative to just letting the leftover amount expire each day.
Senior civil engineering student, Max Beavers, spoke about the pros and cons of the credit.
“I didn’t really think the credit was necessary, but it was for sure great. Me and my friends just went out to eat a lot for the week long period the credit lasted,” Beavers said.
However, one dilemma was that the staff of these restaurants were not warned prior by the university of this plan. As a result, many businesses could not prepare by getting extra food workers to accommodate for the greater number of customers coming in, thereby adding to the food shortages that students had already been experiencing on campus.
Though Vanderbilt is still working to modify its meal plans to suit its students, this debacle has sparked growing concern among UT students. If a school as large and prominent as Vanderbilt could be so greatly impaired by the national, ongoing staff shortages, what does this mean for the future of UT dining?
As COVID-19 continues to inconvenience production on campus, Vanderbilt, UT and schools alike are continuing to try and navigate through these hardships and create suitable solutions for students.