Students eating on campus this fall will notice some changes as Mercer University puts in place new programs and services to help keep them safe during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The University feeds thousands of students, faculty and staff each day, and “in today’s environment, health and safety are paramount,” said Ken Boyer, associate vice president for Auxiliary Services.
All plans — made in conjunction with Aramark, Mercer’s dining services partner — comply with (or go beyond) guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Georgia Department of Public Health. That includes enhanced cleaning and sanitization, health and safety screenings of all employees twice daily, and social distancing.
To comply with social distancing requirements, Mercer is removing all booths and lounge seating in the dining facilities and spacing tables further apart. Capacity also has been reduced.
The University is implementing a density tracking system in Macon at The Fresh Food Company — the University’s main dining hall located in the Connell Student Center — and the Farmer’s Market — a quick service dining option in the University Center — to alert diners when they’ve reached capacity.
The capacity will be displayed on a video screen outside the dining area, along with an estimated wait time and the capacity at the other location. The goal is to integrate the technology with the Mercer University app, available in the App Store and Google Play, so students can check the wait before they come.
At The Fresh Food Company, capacity has been reduced from 550 to 335 people, and at the Farmer’s Market, inside seating went from 150 to 110. More seating is available outside.
In addition, video screens will be installed above the food service lines to show the menus, which also are available at mercerdining.com, along with the hours of each location. Employees will serve all food, including desserts and salads, as buffet service has been suspended.
Students may dine in or get their food to go. Reusable or outside cups will not be permitted.
Employees will sanitize tables between uses and place a placard on the table indicating it is clean. There also will be a pause in service between meal periods each day to sanitize and clean. The Fresh Food Company will close 3-4 p.m., and the Farmer’s Market will close 2-5 p.m.
Diners are required to wear masks while waiting in line and moving about the dining hall but may remove them at their table.
New mobile ordering app, kiosks for retail dining
Auxiliary Services and Mercer Dining will launch a mobile ordering app for its retail dining locations, which include Chick-fil-A, Panda Express, Which Wich, Brewed Awakenings, Einstein Bros. Bagels and the Side Bar Café.
Using the app, which will be available Aug. 12, students will be able to place an order, then skip the line and pick up their food at the designated location. The app will send a notification when their food is ready. Credit and debit cards, Dining Dollars, and Bear Bucks will be accepted.
“We’re trying to go to a more contactless environment all the way around,” Boyer said.
For those who don’t have the app, ordering kiosks will be installed in the University Center for Chick-fil-A and in the Student Center for Which Wich.
“The kiosks will allow you to place your order without the need to stand in line and interact with a cashier,” Boyer said.
In Atlanta, Toby’s dining area will open Aug. 10 with enhanced cleaning and social distancing. The hours will be 7:30 a.m.-7 p.m. Monday-Thursday and 7:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m. Friday.
Toby’s is operated by Carlyle’s Catering, which is adhering to the same cleaning standards as Aramark in Macon.
Catering also is available with health and safety measures put in place.
As guidelines evolve, so will Mercer’s plans.
“We’re adapting things constantly as recommendations from the CDC or the Department of Public Health come down,” Boyer said.