Dining Services successfully navigates a challenging year

October 16, 2020

By Lucas Westhaver

In response to the pandemic, SFU’s Dining Services reacted quickly. They introduced dramatic new safety measures, reconfigured their delivery system to accommodate physical distancing and restructured their payment systems – all without compromising quality and dedication to the campus community.

Since the onset of COVID-19, Dining Services has served more than 50,000 meals to students and staff, including more than 1,500 at zero-cost to customers. Their staff has done exemplary work and are a resilient part of SFU’s campus services team and university community.

For the Dining Services team, the early days of the pandemic response were the most challenging and necessitated the most intense and coordinated response. Dining Services, in collaboration with partners, guaranteed food security would not be a concern for students. During the reading break and spring exam periods, Dining Services provided more than 1,300 zero-cost meals at the Dining Hall, and collaborated with Nemesis Coffee to provide 200 meals for students at the Charles Chang Innovation Centre in Gastown.

Although the majority of the Burnaby Campus is operating remotely, SFU residences remained open, housing more than 400 students during the summer term alone. The first of the many challenges was ensuring physical distancing for these students, especially in closed environments like the Dining Hall. Dining Services restructured their service model to adapt, shifting to a cash-free, take-out model. The Dining Hall also capped capacity at 10 people and installed acrylic plastic screens, as well as floor markers and signage, making it easy for guests to remain six-feet apart.

Despite these changes, service hardly slowed: between April and August, Dining Services served more than 50,000 meals and more than 10,000 cups of fair-trade coffee and bananas., Although COVID-19 presents challenges, Dining Services hasn’t compromised on the sustainability and quality that students have come to expect.

However, the Dining Hall is more than a place to pick up food. Staff offer a familiar and reassuring presence to those suffering from isolation fatigue. These interactions are integral to the campus community, and just as vital as the meals they serve.

Resident district manager Kelly Contreras was quick to highlight several exceptional dining staff, including Stavroula Katsikerou, the head of the salad bar program.

“She brings a smile to students' faces, and cares about them as if they were her own kids,” says Contreras, who also singled out cashier Sofia Choi, for making homemade masks for students.

Keeping Dining Services operating smoothly, under the pressure of COVID-19 – when dining outlets of all kinds face extreme operational challenges – is a huge accomplishment. Their hard work is reflected in the smiles on students' faces, and in the strength of our campus community.