Beginning spring semester 2021, the Finlandia Hall Café will offer more meal options for students. Custom-made speciality salad and wrap options will be available, bringing back some semblance of normalcy during the COVID-19 pandemic. The build-your-own salad and deli bar was removed during the early days of the pandemic in the spring 2020 semester as a way to potentially reduce the spread of COVID-19.
“With all the mandated restrictions we must follow to be compliant, we want to offer more options, but doing so creates a host of obstacles we must overcome,” said Director of Dining Services Tim Nakkula. “I am sure it will take us awhile to iron out the kinks implementing these new options. I ask that students be patient and understanding as we figure out the best way to serve them. My biggest concern is, while students are waiting while we construct a salad or wrap, this will hold up the line, making social distancing more difficult.”
Nakkula said the new offerings come as a result of students requesting more options – a topic that was brought up during the Fall Student Senate Forum – and the desire of the dining services staff to offer more variety.
“The biggest thing I miss from the ‘normal times’ is the salad/deli bar,” said Nakkula. “That was a great way to offer variety. Students could build customized salads and sandwiches – a great option if they did not like the offerings on the main serving line. I also miss being able to offer the full use of the dining room, real dishes and silverware. Students having the option to come back for seconds; they still can, but have to go out into the lobby to return the OZZI containers, redeem the token, get a new container and go through the line again. I am sure the students miss moving chairs to go sit with their friends and teammates at the same table.”
When asked about COVID-19 challenges the dining services staff has faced, Nakkula said he could write an entire essay. The biggest and most pressing challenge was making the Café compliant with new regulations. In the fall semester, returning students would have recognized the space was laid out differently to accommodate social distancing, self-serve stations were eliminated and sneeze guards were put in place.
“The regulations forced us to discontinue or revise many of our most popular items, including Taco Tuesday and the Burger Bar,” said Nakkula. “Even the beverage station self-service was not allowed, requiring me to have staff pour beverages.”
Eliminating self-serve stations complicated matters further when the team found itself short-handed, such as when staff and work-study help were placed into quarantine. Despite all the challenges they’ve faced, Nakkula is looking forward to serving students in the spring semester.
“I look forward to providing our students the best possible dining experience we can offer in these difficult times.”