On the Food Front
Shifts in dining practices required diligent teamwork
by Brooke Thames
It felt like being suddenly blindfolded while driving. That’s how Resident Dining General Manager Jay Breeding describes the moment he realized operations at Bucknell’s seven on-campus eateries would need a major overhaul to support fall reopening amid the pandemic.

But that initial panic didn’t last long. When faced with charting a roadmap through unprecedented territory, Breeding was quick to respond with an unwavering resolve to “make it happen — fast.”

“Since dining locations were going to be some of the only large gathering spaces left, we knew we had to get it exactly right,” he says. “There’d be no days where we could relax, no such thing as ‘close enough.’ Because if we messed up … well, there wasn’t room for messing up.”

So Breeding, alongside a team of managers, chefs and serving staff, immediately got to work. Through many hourslong brainstorming sessions this summer in the Elaine Langone Center’s Walls Lounge, the team devised several scenarios for reconfiguring the dining experience, ranging from high to low risk. They consulted with the state Department of Health and many University divisions, in addition to following the CDC’s COVID-19 guidelines.

Strategies for keeping serving lines short, installing plexiglass barriers and physical-distancing signage, plus rigorous cleaning protocols — all to make campus dining as COVID-proof as possible — were vigilantly considered.

“Even with a solid plan, there was no doubt that we’d need to be incredibly nimble,” Breeding says. “It’d be an evolving process of seeing what we could adjust to make dining as close to familiar as possible. And every decision was consciously made in the interest of pure safety of our students and community.”

Painstakingly designed to prioritize efficiency, flexibility and safety, this fall’s dining experience was vastly different from what students had experienced before.

Rather than an array of made-to-order and self-serve options, the lunch and dinner menu was standardized across nearly all dining locations. While entrée items changed often — from enchiladas to chicken stew to beef cheesesteaks — the new menu always included a protein, starch and pasta option, as well as salads and vegan and vegetarian dishes. All food items were served by dining staff, and take-out was highly encouraged.

The standard menu and reduced seating capacity in all dining areas helped prevent congestion. But these strategies also required short-order cooks to swiftly adapt to a new system of service and sanitation, a feat that’s been “awesome,” according to Retail Dining Assistant Director Sarah Lincicome.

“It’s impressive how fast and effectively our cooks have completely switched gears. This would not have been possible without their dedication,” says Lincicome, who oversees locations such as the Commons, 7th Street and Bertrand Library cafés. “Whatever it takes to keep our students safe, healthy and smiling is what we’re here to do,” she says.

Ensuring that each Bucknellian was provided for was far from a solitary effort. Staff from departments across the University volunteered to deliver fresh, hot meals to students in isolation and quarantine, seven days a week.

Library & Information Technology Systems Engineer Wade Hutchison ’84, M’94 and colleagues delivered more than 30 meals one weekend.

“Anything I can do to help keep this campus open and running is a worthwhile endeavor,” says Hutchison. “The amount of effort we’re putting in is not at all unexpected or extraordinary. It’s just the kind of place Bucknell is.”

Amy Baker, who rallied her University Advancement colleagues and made deliveries every day for several weeks, says the effort meant “truly putting that ‘Bucknell Together’ slogan into action and making sure students’ needs are at the very top of our priorities list. Nothing that we do in our regular jobs matters if it’s not ultimately to the benefit of students, because they’re the reason we’re here.”