Social distancing restrictions lead to long lines outside UI dining halls

The University of Iowa has decided to close all seating in the dining halls to promote social distancing. Now students reserve time slots to come pick up their food instead.


Tate Hildyard

Burge Marketplace worker, Elijah Lyons prepares a takeout bag of dorm food on Monday, August 26th, 2020. Due to health and safety regulations as a means of preventing the spread of COVID-19, the dining hall process has been streamlined with an advanced registration process and a takeout meal process.

Caitlin Crome, News Reporter

Normally filled with anxious first year students, the dining halls are now empty and open for takeout only. This school year, the University Housing & Dining closed all dining halls to follow Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines on social distancing.

While this decision was intended to space students out, students said they have found it is doing the opposite. With six-feet markers on the floors, if students followed them, the lines would be out in the street.

Director of University of Iowa Dining Jill Irvin said the main question the university asked themselves when making this switch was, “How are we going to be able to provide meals to this group of students as safely as we possibly can?”

Irvin said the university took into consideration three things: safety, value, and service. They wanted to be able to provide the same type of service and level of menu as safely as possible, she said.

One of the reasons UI Housing and Dining decided to do an online ordering component was to try and move people away from staying in the marketplaces. Because of state regulations, Irvin said, the seating capacity for sit-in dining was going to be very low.

Using the reservation system put in helps the dining staff control the number of people that are in the marketplace at any one time, she added. Most time slots allow for up to 100 students or less.

Reservations allow for students to practice social distancing without having to worry about whether they are six feet from each other, but Irvin said UI Housing and Dining has found that social distancing in general is no longer the main concern: it is social distancing within the wait lines.

She said if students have a reservation at a certain time, they should not come down half an hour early and get in line.

“I know that in years past it has always taken students some time to get used to the marketplaces,” Irvin said. “For students, I think this is just a learning curve.”

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She also said that to help with the adjustment, students should begin to use flex meals in other university locations on busier days and times.

“If we can get everyone to recognize, ‘do not come down until it is your reservation time’, then that will help a lot,” Irvin said.

UI freshman Taylor Ford, who lives in Burge Hall, said she believes the measures UI Housing and Dining put in place are not helping or fixing anything. She has been to the dining hall six times since arriving on Thursday, each time encountering long and crowded lines.

“On the days that Catlett was closed, the line was almost out the door,” Ford said. “I feel like it would almost be more effective if they stopped having people make reservations and just let people come and go as they please, rather than have everyone congregate in a certain area.”

She said students must reserve a time slot to enter the dining hall or may also choose to order through Grub Hub from any university dining option. Once students come to pick up their food, they can either sit outside or take it back to their dorm room, she said.

UI freshman Kassidy Brotherton, a resident of Hillcrest Hall, finds this new way of getting meals inconvenient.

“The lines are super long,” she said, “…and sometimes when you try to make your reservation, it does not load.

Many students said there are more people than what the max should be because of backups within the initial line, as well as the lines to make your food selection.

“If it was just come at your own time, it would be more spaced out,” Brotherton said.