On-campus residents and staff share dining experiences during the Mid-Semester Residential Experience
Through an eventful school year and mini-semester on campus, residents and staff alike had mixed reactions to AU’s food and dining services
Since students moved onto campus for American University’s Mid-Semester Residential Experience (MSRE), dining has become a key focus of many residents’ questions and concerns.
Due to new coronavirus procedures implemented to keep students and staff safe, most dining options on campus have been to-go, while some dining locations on campus haven’t opened at all. Starbucks, Subway and Einstein Bros. Bagels have been “closed for training” during the 2021 MSRE, according to the AU Mobile Order App.
But what is commonly referred to as the mini-mester has been noticeably different from semesters before it, and residents and staff alike have had varying experiences with the MSRE.
AU Mobile Order
While on campus for the mini-mester, residents have been able to download the AU Mobile Order app to place their orders at a variety of on-campus dining locations and pick it up once their meal is ready.
On the app, students have the option to order from TDR, Wonk Burger, Absurd Bird, BUILD, the Dav and the Bridge Cafe. And though the app has been working for a majority of the time during the MSRE, there have been times where students have noted issues with ordering or issues with the app functioning altogether.
School of International Service freshman Jehane Djedjro said that she feels as though having a mobile order option has made things easier than they might have been otherwise.
“This is my first semester on campus,” Djedjro said. “I wasn’t sure how TDR functioned last semester, but I definitely think that having an app makes things so much easier, especially being able to order it ahead of time and going to pick it up.”
Though Djedjro noted these positives about AU’s mobile ordering, she also said that there are “specific times during the day” where the app shuts down.
The University also offered students the ability to use EagleBucks on the food delivery app Grubhub this year when they sign up with their student ID or email.
SIS sophomore Dean Lefebvre said that this particular program has been helpful on nights where he wants to order in later than 5 or 6 p.m.
Housing and Residence Life at AU have also acknowledged issues with the mobile order app, and have sent emails to current residents throughout the “mini-mester” to alert them of times when the app was down.
Wait times on campus have also greatly differed, and residents have found themselves with varying experiences waiting to get their food.
SPA freshman Isabella Paracca found most of her orders to be done before they said they would be, and Djedjro described the wait times themselves as “very short” and “extremely fast.”
Not everyone has found the wait times to be as quick nor as flexible.
Lefebvre explained that though he believes AU has gotten better with their wait times and app issues, he still has to be “smart about it” to plan ahead.
“Usually, you can tell a line based on the menu,” Lefebvre said. “If you know that this is a menu that people are gonna want, then you order early.”
Lefebvre elaborated that though he has experienced some longer wait times during MSRE, he also said that not every on-campus location has the same issue.
“Wonk Burger has actually been really good about it,” Lefebvre said. “And TDR generally is okay.”
MSRE food options
When it comes to the food itself though, residents seem to have mixed opinions.
While options at The Dav and Absurd Bird remain the same, menus at TDR change each day, though some choices like fruit, mac and cheese, garden salads and Belgian waffles are consistently available. Between breakfast, lunch and dinner, food choices at TDR vary, with options ranging from sweet potato wedges to cilantro rice or baked ham.
“I definitely think that the quality of food is good for what AU is — a university,” Djedjro said when speaking of the dining options during the MSRE.
Lefebvre said that he wished AU opened a “few more of their options” for dining during the MSRE. Lefebvre expressed disappointment in early closing times, suggesting that staying open for even another hour or so may help to alleviate the lines and wait times for both residents and staff.
Behind the MSRE dining experience: food service workers
Chartwells, AU’s contracted dining provider, notified furloughed service workers about returning to work in January, according to Anthony Randolph, an organizer for AU’s food service union and a dining worker.
Approximately 35 workers have returned to campus to handle Chartwells’ dining offers in TDR and in the Tavern. Over 190 hourly staff were furloughed, according to University spokesperson Stacie Burgess.
Randolph said he decided not to return to campus to work because he was concerned about safety amid the pandemic. Workers were given the opportunity to opt-out of returning to work when they were notified in January, Randolph said.
“They did do some things to keep workers and students safe, and I was glad they were able to do that in a short period of time before opening up,” Randolph said. He visited campus in March to check in on what measures the University and Chartwells had taken to keep dining employees safe. “The workers are thankful that they have opportunities in terms of work.”
Despite gratefulness to be back to work, Randolph said there have been issues with understaffing at the dining locations as well as delays in receiving payroll.
Maurice Jackson, who worked at TDR’s salad station said he hadn’t been paid for a week upon returning from the pandemic and that he was frustrated. He had been working at AU since 1999.
Jackson said he wasn’t worried about safety upon returning to work in March because he’d been vaccinated.
“I didn’t care about no pandemic, I was working anyway, coming in and working with students,” Jackson said. “I had to make some money.”
He added that workers were provided protection equipment, like masks, though he said one dining service worker did catch COVID-19. A University spokesperson said that contracted workers, like dining staff, are tested for COVID-19 twice per week.
“We continue to implement increased cleaning of high-traffic areas and provide hand sanitizing stations across campus, including dining areas. Additionally, there are health and safety measures which Chartwells requires of their workers,” said Burgess in an email to The Eagle.
Throughout the pandemic, food service employees were furloughed by the University. Randolph said he didn’t receive much communication from the University or from Chartwells, but the University was still providing for the workers on furlough.
“They’ve always been in our corner, they were providing health care for our workers,” Randolph said, when speaking about the University. “They were on our side, they were making sure we were getting things that were making workers comfortable during this pandemic. They made sure we had health care, they made sure we had gift cards. I appreciate them for doing that. Like I said, people were relying on health care and having some assistance for food and things that were allowing them to live.”
Another food service worker, Alvesta Richardson, said that she was hesitant about how the University and Chartwells would ensure service workers’ safety. Richardson said that Chartwells did not reach out to her, or any other workers she had talked to, throughout the pandemic.
Richardson said Chartwells plans on bringing back more workers in August as the Fall 2021 semester begins.
Chartwells did not respond to request for comment.
“Currently, we are planning for a return to full dining services in the fall and contractors will be returning to campus-based on student enrollment and dining needs. The specific process for dining contractors to return is determined by Chartwells and its collective bargaining agreement with the union representing the workers,” Burgess said in an email.