UI Housing and Dining to maintain menu size as in-person dining begins this week

As in-person dining begins again this week, University Housing and Dining marketplaces plan to continue offering all current food options and will attempt to continue expanding menu sizes.


Tate Hildyard

A Burge Market Place worker serves a line of students 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.

Marco Oceguera, News Reporter

University of Iowa Housing and Dining will keep its current food-menu items as it revives in-person dining this week. That is a change, since a fall housing and dining questionnaire surveying residents about attitudes toward in-person dining had warned residents that in-person seating may offer limited options.

University dining halls resumed limited-capacity in-person dining Monday after offering takeout-only for the fall and beginning months of the spring semester. In a fall survey of on-campus residents, 72.12 percent of respondents preferred current menu options without dine-in seating, leading to the university’s initial decision to keep to-go only meals. The questionnaire, which is now closed, contrasted that option with a limited in-person dining menu.

Students with food restrictions, like Isabella Mullins, who is allergic to fish and sensitive to certain types of meat, had been concerned that there would be fewer vegetarian and vegan options for in-person dining.

Mullins, a second-year sustainability sciences major, said that having a Black Meal Plan, which has a cap of one express meal per meal period, has made it difficult to fully follow her dietary restrictions this school year.

The express dining system allows students to reserve a time slot to go into the usual dining hall space and carry out food, where the options are more varied. The other option for students —GrubHub ordering — allows students to order and quickly pick up to-go meals but offers fewer food options.

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With the Black Meal Plan, all additional meals for the day outside of the one express meal per breakfast, lunch, and dinner must be ordered as a flex meal or picked up through the GrubHub ordering system.

“I just wish there were more options through GrubHub for vegans, vegetarians, and everyone in between,” Mullins said. “It’s hard to keep eating vegan nuggets or a salad every single day.”

The UI is continuing to offer GrubHub and to-go express meals in addition to limited in-person dining.

The Dining Hall GrubHub Menu was originally set up this academic year to minimize the number of in-person interactions within the dining halls. However, Director of University Dining Jill Irvin said food options are more limited and have less variety in comparison to the express dining menu.

Irvin said that students should have more food options available to them in the coming weeks because of the in-person dining plan, which will now allow Black meal plan users to use express dining multiple times per meal period if they need to.

“Now that we have dine-in seating available, the restriction on Black meal plan holders to only get one meal per meal period is gone,” Irvin said. “You can come in multiple times.”

The Black meal plan comes with 220 meal swipes to use throughout the semester. The other plan, Gold, offers unlimited meal swipes.

With in-person dining, each of the three market places has a cap on the number of students who can dine-in. Students must make a reservation, which gives them about 30 minutes to eat.

During the fall, a majority of student respondents, 54 percent, said they were confident or very confident in the housing and dining system’s ability to maintain safety protocols for in-person dining. But only 30.43 percent had the same level of confidence in students ability to follow the same protocols.

The Head Chef of Catlett Marketplace, David Von Holten, said that while simpler food items like vegan nuggets are popular, Catlett Marketplace has continued to add more vegan and vegetarian options to the GrubHub menu as they received student feedback.

“We wanted to offer something that was a better reflection of what we actually do here at Catlett Marketplace,” Von Holten said. “So, we have a Beyond Italian Sausage sandwich that we’re doing, which we can rotate between weeks.”

Von Holten added that the structure of the GrubHub app makes it difficult to consistently switch out food options.

“The biggest thing about GrubHub is that the marketplaces were not designed for a service like GrubHub, because it’s more of a restaurant service style app,” Von Holten said.

Despite the challenges, Von Holten said that he and his team are continuing to receive feedback to gauge student preferences and adjust the GrubHub menu accordingly.

“We definitely use our text entails system to give us feedback,” Von Holten said. “There’ve been a couple vegan requests, and we are looking into that and what we can get [on the menu] consistently.”