Food Management is sharing stories from the front lines of service during coronavirus. This is Ted Faulkner’s, director of dining service at Virginia Tech, story:
“After this last phase [of coronavirus-related mandates], we got down to 491 students on campus grounds. The university had sent out forms for students to fill out about their circumstances and then determinations were made on a case-by-case basis on who would be permitted to stay. Following the governor’s declaration of essential operation status starting April 3, only essential personnel are here, and most of that falls on dining services, facilities, the Schiffert Health Center and housing/residence life housekeeping staff.
We laid off all our student wage workers early on, but all our wage and salaried [adult] members are still present on campus, other than a few outliers. Starting April 10, because we’re down to only 491 students, we condensed services and have been operating only out of our Southgate Food Center commissary that has a warehouse, bakeshop and cold food prep, and Owens Food Court at Owens Hall, which has 10 concepts—Freshens, Frank’s Deli, Ciotola, Wan, Varibowl, Tazon, Pops Cheesteaks, Sweet Temptations, Garden and a to-go [station] we call Grab & Gobble. All orders and payment must be placed online through our GrubHub app using only student dining plan accounts. Orders are for delivery or pickup only.
Photo: Ted Faulkner, director of dining service at Virginia Tech.
In fact, for both staff and customer safety, we had gone to pickup and/or delivery starting March 21st when we reopened after extending spring break by two weeks. We had already been a partner with GrubHub for mobile orders and online payment, but what we didn’t have was the delivery part. But over those few days we put all our menu items online where students could order them and pay through the dining plan, and we worked with our partners here on campus to procure vehicles, golf carts and pup trucks to deliver to housing buildings on the main campus. The remaining students all have individual rooms in 28 residential buildings.
Originally, in addition to Owens, we also had Au Bon Pain at Squires Student Union and DXpress at Dietrick Hall open because we wanted to keep some normalcy for the students who had to remain behind. Au Bon Pain is in the Student Union that also had things like ping pong tables and bowling alleys and other places to sit down because, originally, we were told no gatherings of more than a hundred, but then it went to 50, then to 10 and basically 1. Au Bon Pain was already on the GrubHub system and had a great breakfast menu and the right staff size, plus the right location on campus because early on we were also servicing off-campus dining plan holders. In the first two weeks, there was roughly 2,400 off-campus students with dining plans who could place orders, though they had to come pick it up because we were not offering off-campus delivery. So early on we were doing 1,700 to 1,800 meals a day, about 900 of them deliveries. Now that we’re down to 491, we’re doing roughly 800 to 850 dining experiences a day with 82%—roughly 675 to 700 a day—being delivery.
Now, students can choose among the concepts at Owens by going online, place their orders a la carte. The nice thing is that GrubHub shows them where they would be in the queue at each of the concepts so they can make choices based either on what they want to eat or which one has shorter waits. They get pinged when the order’s ready for pickup or we’ll deliver it to them and they’re notified when it gets there.
We’ve worked with housing to give our staff members access into the residence halls. It’s keyless entry so we got our staff IDs programmed so they can swipe in, and then we have signage and tables in the lobby area as drop-off point to minimize contact. We do deliver to a few self-isolation doors but 95.5% is to a central agreed-upon area with a designed table where the food is left and the delivery person gracefully exists the building.
Another thing that changed on April 10 was that instead of continuous service between 8 a.m. and 7 p.m. seven days a week, we’re now closing down between 1:30 p.m. and 3 p.m. That allows an a.m. staff to come in, do their jobs and then exit the building before a whole new team comes in, so there’s no crossover or mixing of teams. Also, we now have four separate teams to cover the seven days, with each morning and evening team working three days one week and four the next. That lets us always have a backup if something were to happen to any individual team.
There are 40 to 50 people on each team because of the needs for making 700 deliveries to 28 buildings over nine and a half hours, with lunch and dinner being especially busy. We have seven motorized vehicles, 20 golf carts and two pup trucks, which are mini food trucks that usually support our food trucks but which we’re now using as delivery vehicles too. So that’s 29 vehicles plus foot delivery.
We’re feeding our own dining staff who are onsite that day providing essential services, but housekeepers and other essential staff still on campus are brown-bagging or making other arrangements. That is because once the university hit essential function status, by decree of the university president we could provide services only to those students who are housed on campus grounds in campus housing, so even faculty, staff and other community members are not able to place orders through the GrubHub app.
We worked with GrubHub to program it to only accept active dining plan card holders, so [we can’t accept] credit cards or anything else. As for the students still on campus, we are their kitchens—they have nowhere to turn, nowhere to go. They don’t have kitchen access in these residence halls, so we fill that void.”
As told to Mike Buzalka on April 8.