In this special edition of 5 Things, Food Management highlights five things you may have missed recently about developments regarding coronavirus and its impact on onsite dining.
Here’s your list for today:
- “Unattended retail” technology and deployment booms due to COVID
The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly boosted “unattended retail” (vending) technology and spread it into more locations, especially in onsite venues like airports, colleges and offices, according to this extensive Washington Post analysis. Among the examples cited are a high-tech pizza vending machine expected to be in some 200 sites like college dorms, airports, manufacturing plants and military bases by year’s end (with robot delivery perhaps the next step?); a pasta-and-sauce vending machine (which also dispenses cannoli-making kits and jars of tiramisu) deployed in an office building; a “cupcake ATM” with 14 free-standing units currently in airports and retail centers; and the Farmers Fridge healthy food vending refrigerated kiosk unit that is already deployed in a number of college, offices and healthcare locations.
Is the return of the classic automat next?
- NC State plans return to “normal” operation this fall
North Carolina State University students can expect to be back in classrooms for all of their classes and living in dorms on campus next fall, Chancellor Randy Woodson has announced, declaring that the university will have “a normal fall 2021 semester.” N.C. State is the first local university to set plans for “pre-pandemic” operations with full occupancy in residence halls and face-to-face classes for students and faculty, including having campus dining facilities, libraries, the recreation center and other facilities returning to normal hours with increased capacity while staff members return to their offices and normal workplace activities.
- Lunchtime spacing may hamper Hawaii schools’ return to in-person classes
The Hawaii Department of Education has reached agreements with the state’s Health Department and teachers union on how to bring more students back to K-12 campuses in one of the largest public school systems in the country. However, one key issue is providing adequate safe spacing in dining areas, with one principal declaring that 100% of her students won’t be returning this school year because the cafeteria doesn’t have enough space to socially distance. “I would need 10 lunch periods for kids to eat safely,” Kanoelani Elementary School Principal Stacie Kunihisa said.
- Senior living facility in California opens up dining room to 50% capacity
Following the recently released CDC guidelines for fully vaccinated Americans, some senior living facilities are beginning to open up communal dining areas, giving residents a chance after a year of isolation to socialize over food. Among them is the Emerald Court Senior Living Facility in Anaheim, Calif., which has 90% of its residents vaccinated. "They were asking about sitting with someone, they feel like they were being captive,” says Richard Calle, who works at the community’s dining hall. “But now seating at 50%, they can sit with somebody else, they can see their neighbors and friends, so it's a good experience. It's really good."
- Dining venue occupancy detection system may stick around post-pandemic
A number of technology solutions implemented in response to the challenges posed by COVID-19 have a good chance of remaining after the crisis has passed because they offer solutions and efficiencies to pre-existing problems, such as dining venue crowding at peak meal periods. At Cedarville University in Ohio, an automated occupancy detection system installed to keep down crowds in the seven campus eateries could become a long-term feature of the campus dining program, says Nathanael Biggs, network analyst for information technology at the school.
“There’s a continued value there for telling people what is busy,” he notes. “Even without COVID, people like to know where there are lines,” adding that some of the data gathered from the system’s sensors can also give the university greater overall insight into planning for busy meal periods.
Contact Mike Buzalka at [email protected]