COVID-19 has brought numerous changes to Fairfield’s campus, especially to dining and meal plans. The Daniel and Grace Tully Dining Commons, and other dining areas on campus have made massive adjustments to how they run in order to accommodate social distancing measures and prevention of the spread of COVID-19 via surfaces.
Duane Gornicki, the general manager of dining at Fairfield, is confident that the University is fully prepared to combat the spread of the virus in dining halls.
“They were prepared with the state of Connecticut guidelines and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines in terms of how many individuals can be in the dining hall at one time, in conjunction with the student health center here at the University,” Gornicki said.
Perhaps the biggest change in on-campus dining is that The Tully is no longer the only dining hall on campus. New dining areas were added all across campus to accommodate traffic flow and social distancing requirements. The Tully’s seating capacity was reduced from 750 to 340 people at the start of the semester. The Tully only serves students living in Jogues, Regis, Campion and McCormick Hall. The Oak Room dining area serves Loyola, Gonzaga and Langguth. Faber Commons is reserved for residents of Faber Hall, and the Conference Center serves students living in Claver and Kostka Hall, as well as those with voluntary meal plans.
One new Micro Markets was added to campus along with the original on the third floor of the John A. Barone Campus Center. The other Micro Market is located on the first floor of the Campus Center.
Meal plans are also available at the Levee for non-resident students.
Two to three food trucks are parked outside of Alumni Hall every weekday, providing a wide variety of food for students. The food trucks accept meal swipes and dining dollars, and they seem to be fairly popular with students.
“It’s been a big hit,” Gornicki said. “About 30 percent of our meal plan holders are using it [the food truck option] on a daily basis.” Currently, there are 28 rotating food trucks, but the most popular ones seem to be Columbia Hot Dogs and Silver Sands Pizza.
However, these new dining areas are temporary and will likely disappear once the threat of COVID-19 is eliminated. When asked if the new dining areas are here to stay, Gornicki responded: “Nope, not on my watch. This is all temporary.” He said that The Tully would go back to being the only primary dining area on campus once a vaccine comes out and proves effective to significantly reduce infection risk.
Despite this, Gornicki mentioned that he would like to see more grab-and-go options available once COVID-19 subsides. He believes that a permanent grab-and-go option at The Tully would eliminate the extreme congestion in the dining hall around 6 p.m. every night, when swarms of students escape from class at the same time and head to the Tully to eat. “If you could take meals out of The Tully, do you think that The Tully would have congestion at 6 or 6:30 p.m.? Not at all,” he said.
However, Gornicki says that he’d like to see a new dining area open on campus for students with dietary needs and restrictions, providing more vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free options.
Right now, all of the dining areas have vegetarian and vegan options, but only The Tully caters to special allergy needs. However, students can register any dietary needs they may have with the health center and will have their dining location moved to The Tully for their accommodations.
“If we’re going to mandate students to be on a meal plan then we should have the ability to customize that meal plan, especially if there are dietary restrictions,” Gornicki said. “I think there are 70 or 80 individuals that have changed their dining location to The Tully.”
Ultimately, there’s no telling where Fairfield’s on-campus dining will go from here, as the campus is still in the throes of a COVID-19 spike. However, Gornicki hopes that once the virus subsides, things will start to go back to normal.