The independent dining facilities in Yost, Murray and EAST reopened on Monday after being closed since Jan. 11, according to residents.
The reopening coincides with the start of in-person classes, and comes after Resident Fellows and Residential and Dining Enterprises (R&DE) announced that the kitchens would be closed indefinitely from Jan. 11 onwards in a Jan. 8 email to house residents.
Eating arrangements at residences with independent dining halls work differently than the traditional 15-meal dining plan: Every weekday, continental breakfast as well as hot lunch and dinner is served cooked in-house. In addition, students receive five meal-swipes to use at any of the all-campus dining halls.
During the closure period, students living in Yost, EAST and Murray were placed on the 15-meal dining hall plan, with no additional cost. Students are allowed to remain on the updated meal plan as well as regain access to the independent kitchens for the remainder of the quarter “as a way to thank students for their support as we worked through the challenges of COVID,” according to R&DE spokesperson Jocelyn Breeland.
Breeland wrote that the original decision to close the facilities was made largely due to the ramifications of COVID-19, as the recent spread of the highly contagious Omicron variant strained R&DE staff in numerous ways.
With an unprecedented number of students in quarantine during the first few weeks of winter quarter, Breeland explained that dining staff has had to deliver meals to students in isolation in addition to providing regular services in Stanford’s dining halls, limiting employee bandwidth. Simultaneously, staff shortages have presented an issue throughout the pandemic as employees test positive or choose not to work in order to protect exposure to their children or at-risk family members, Breeland added.
“R&DE is deeply committed to providing vital service for students and to supporting the needs of our staff,” Breeland wrote in a Wednesday email. “We therefore made the difficult decision to consolidate operations.”
During the kitchen closures, the staff working the kitchens in Yost, Murray and EAST were deployed to other dining operations on campus for the time being, according to Breeland.
“Since we made this change, the response from students has been overwhelmingly positive,” Breeland wrote.
Kate Crandell ’23, a resident assistant in Yost, agreed with the original decision to indefinitely close the kitchen. At the beginning of the quarter, there were a high number of cases in Yost according to the COVID-19 potential exposure building list, with many residents needing to quarantine inside the dorm. This, paired with staff shortage issues, made Crandell feel that the closures were a good call.
“I was pretty surprised since I didn’t realize the situation was that bad in terms of staff coverage,” Crandell said in response to the announcement that the dining halls were closing. “But it makes sense in retrospect given how many cases we had.”
Although understanding of the situation, Crandell said that many students were both shocked and saddened by the announcement of the kitchen closures. For many in these smaller living arrangements — about 60 people per house — the tight-knit nature of the independent dining rooms creates community and fosters connections between students and kitchen staff, according to Crandell.
Yost resident Cameron Duran ’24 is looking forward to the reopening of the community kitchen and reconnecting with other students who are living in the “At Home Abroad” theme house. Through traditions such as language tables — where students can converse in French and house chefs prepare particular French desserts, for example — she is excited to rekindle this type of intimate comradery.
“It’s way more convenient, but also a big part of the dorm community getting to have meals together,” Duran said. “We usually have language tables during dinner, which will be back with the reopening.”
Crandell echoed the importance of the dining hall in community building, and she added that the residents missed the kitchen staff while they were gone.
Although the independent dining halls are returning and classes are starting in-person, students are still braced for building closures, unusual store hours and other uncertainties as COVID-19 remains unpredictable and cases are still high on campus.
“Though it’s disappointing to not have those on-campus and late-night experiences, I fully support and understand the need to shut things down, especially with the surge of cases we’ve had the past few weeks,” Duran said. “Things feel super up in the air right now.”
This article has been updated to reflect a statement from Jocelyn Breeland that students in Yost, Murray, and EAST will remain on the updated meal plan for the remainder of the quarter.