Auburn Campus Dining adds food lockers, other new offerings amid COVID-19 safeguards

Published: September 09, 2020
Updated: September 10, 2020
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Lockers aren’t just for gyms and school hallways anymore. Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Auburn University is employing lockers for food delivery in one of its many new dining safeguard measures.

“This year, we’ve had to innovate,” said Glenn Loughridge, director of Campus Dining at Auburn. “No one likes the situation that we face, but sometimes these negatives end up being positives because it pushes us to think outside of the box. So, one of the things that we brought to Foy (Hall) this year is our food locker system, which allows students to pre-order their food to ‘Foy on the Fly’—which is located in the War Eagle food court if you’re an alum—and we’re able to use the power of that dining hall to have a really robust menu that we can provide students.”

That way, students can order food that is prepared behind the scenes and doesn’t go out in a buffet line but instead is placed inside a warming locker and is sealed away until pickup.

“If it takes them (the student) 15 minutes to get here, their food will still be warm,” Loughridge said, adding that he’s not aware of any other universities currently employing the use of such food lockers. “They put their code into the food locker. It lights up. It flashes. And they’re able to grab their food and go.”

Loughridge said placing an order on a cell phone is an easy process made through the popular app Grubhub. Loughridge said Campus Dining has employed Grubhub for a couple of years for other locations on campus and is now implementing its use for the food lockers in the Foy Hall dining area – newly dubbed The Commons at Foy Dining. Beyond the food lockers, students also can use the Grubhub app to set up a food delivery from Foy – a service called Foy on the Fly.

“We’re not asking you to download a new app or something they’re not familiar with. Grubhub is a platform we’ve had for a couple of years now, and we’re just adding functionality to that same platform,” Loughridge said. “So, when you go to Grubhub you’ll see multiple locations listed, all of the ones that we have available for pre-order. You select the one that you want. You’re able to go through the menu, pick out, customize, do all those different things and then place your order.”

The new offerings are among several new measures being implemented with on-campus dining at Auburn—to include plexiglass meal dividers at tables, many hand-washing stations and even special glove dispensers that inflate automatically so a patron can insert their hand without touching a surface.

“This semester is different from any semester we’ve ever had,” Loughridge said. “We’ve taken some extraordinary measures to make sure that we can still do what we do. The most important part of dining is the community that you get from sitting together, having a meal. So, the steps that we’ve taken are to try to maintain as much of that community as we possibly can while safely social distancing our students.”

Loughridge said he wants patrons to know his staff is working hard to ensure a safe and enjoyable dining experience.

“We are taking every precaution. We abide by every CDC guideline, state of Alabama guideline, and then there are things we put in place that are even above and beyond that,” he said, noting the self-inflating glove dispenser. “It’s actually really cool—so, the glove inflates, you slide your hand in and you can use that glove to go and grab food off of the line without ever having to touch the utensils.”

He added that “We’ve implemented a change out procedure where every half hour we’re changing those utensils out to make sure that those stay safe. We have a hand washing station as you walk in. So, we’re taking a lot of precautions. I feel like we have gone above and beyond. We want students to be safe, but we also want them to be able to be together.”

Loughridge said patrons can do their part as well by using dining’s hand sanitizing stations and adhering to the requirement of a face mask indoors, unless when eating, making sure to put the mask back on even if simply getting up to grab a napkin.

“I think if we can keep our hands washed and our masks on, I think we’re going to be in good shape,” he said.

Looking to the future and new dining needs and offerings, Loughridge said he typically analyzes historical trends, but amid COVID-19 eating patterns are changing.

“We look back at other semesters, other years, this is the general pattern that we see students taking—when we need to have things open, when things close, all of those things,” he said. “You can pretty much throw all of that out the window right now. Student patterns are totally different than they’ve ever been. That’s not necessarily a bad thing or a good thing. It’s just something that is. So, we’re in a constant period of adjustment, and as we see how students utilize dining, when they want to be in our spaces – we’re adjusting hours, we’re adjusting offerings. We just rolled out campus delivery because we are seeing that students, they’re in their residence hall and ‘hey, I just want to order food,’ and it’s kind of a normal thing. Everybody does it now. So, that’s something we felt we needed to adjust and provide for our students.”

Loughridge is happy to report that about 90 percent of normal campus dining offerings are open.

“For the most part, we have our food trucks open; we have the Harold D. Melton Student Center open; we have the Village; we have Terrell; we have Panera in the library; we have Foy open right now. So, we do have quite a bit of options for a student on any given day to go and access.”

And the next big offering on the horizon, he says, will come in fall 2021 when a new dining hall will come online.

“So, one of the things we’re doing right now is building a central dining hall. It’s something that we’ve wanted for a long time. It’s going to have 800 seats,” he said. “It’s going to be state-of-the-art in terms of equipment but hopefully feel like it has always been a part of campus. Our hope is that it will become a hub for students in central campus since you’ll be able to access it any time of the day.

“We feel like this has been the need for quite some time. We’re going to do things in this place that we haven’t been able to do before. You’ll have 11 different stations with a variety of food available every single day. We’re going to make our own pasta, our own pizza dough, even our own tortillas. We want the students to feel like they are getting a high level, artisan experience every single day. This facility is going to allow us to really elevate our program.”

Auburn University is a nationally ranked land grant institution recognized for its commitment to world-class scholarship, interdisciplinary research with an elite, top-tier Carnegie R1 classification, life-changing outreach with Carnegie’s Community Engagement designation and an undergraduate education experience second to none. Auburn is home to more than 30,000 students, and its faculty and research partners collaborate to develop and deliver meaningful scholarship, science and technology-based advancements that meet pressing regional, national and global needs. Auburn’s commitment to active student engagement, professional success and public/private partnership drives a growing reputation for outreach and extension that delivers broad economic, health and societal impact.