The world has changed since students left Virginia Tech in March, and when they return in the fall, they’ll notice that the dining centers have changed as well.

To protect students and workers, on-campus dining halls will operate differently than they have in the past.

“Our number one priority is the safety of our students, as well as our extraordinary staff,” said Frank Shushok, vice president for student affairs. “We recognize the necessary changes will be difficult, and we remain grateful for the patience and sacrifice of the Hokie community. So often Ut Prosim (That I May Serve) calls us to focus beyond our Hokie family, but this season will also require that same spirit within our community, every single day. I believe we can make this work together."

One of the biggest changes for fall 2020 is that off-campus dining plans have been suspended, at least until public health restrictions are loosened.

“We are working closely with the Town of Blacksburg to bolster options for students in the local market, as well as increasing the number of food truck providers on and around campus,” Shushok said.

Students who do have on-campus dining plans will find significant changes, too, beginning with reduced capacity, as tables will be spaced 9 feet apart to provide for 6 feet of physical distancing between people seated at different tables. Each table will be limited to four people. Under normal circumstances, Turner Place accommodates 800 people; under the new guidelines only about 300 will be able to sit down, said Brian Grove, senior associate director of dining services.

D2 flow chart
This illustration demonstrates the space guidelines for the dining center in Dietrick Hall, also called D2.

Students in line at dining centers must also observe physical distancing, which means that fewer people will be able to queue in a given space. Dining Services has installed what Grove described as “miles of plexiglass” to protect workers and those in serving lines. Hand sanitizer will be available at the entrance, as well as at stations strategically placed throughout each building.

Dining Services has installed touchless payment systems in which students will be able to tap their Hokie Passport, and in D2 at Dietrick Hall, the touchless, biometric MorphoWave payment system is in place. Debit and credit will no longer be accepted. Self-service stations such as salad bars also have been eliminated.

The university anticipates that fewer students will be on campus due to online classes, but even so, the precautions and the resulting decrease in capacity likely mean that students should plan for a longer wait than in previous years. The lines will appear much longer due to the physical distancing of 6 feet requirement.

“It’s going to take a little more time to get into the facility to get served, and students need to realize that,” Grove said. “We’re going to try to serve about every 30 seconds on average, but it’s going to take more time to get through a dining facility.”

Menus will be reduced in order to boost capacity, but  popular items such as chicken parmesan, General Tso’s chicken, and London broil will still be available.

Because of limitations on capacity, Dining Services will be encouraging students to arrive to get their food, eat, and leave, instead of hanging out to work and linger over a cup of coffee.

The university is also working to provide students more quick “Grab-n-Gobble” options. It’s also expanding the number of Grubhub kiosks on campus. These kiosks allow students to order their food and pay for it before going to pick it up. The Grubhub mobile order and payment app will also be available.

Dining Services will continue to honor any remaining rollover balances in Flex dollars, Dining Dollars, or Commuter Cash during the fall 2020 semester, even for students who do not have any other dining plan.

“Sanitation and safety are paramount for us in Dining Services,” Grove said. “That’s our number one guiding principle, and we’re more committed to this than ever before.. We’re going to take care of students; we’re trying to do everything we possibly can to get them here and get them fed while keeping them safe. Students just need to plan accordingly and follow the guidelines.”

Frequently Asked Questions:

Q: Will dining plans be available to off-campus students, including those students not approved for on-campus housing?

A: Unfortunately, we are not able to accommodate both on-campus and off-campus students while maintaining physical distancing and public safety guidelines for students and our staff. Therefore, we will not be offering the sale of new dining plans to off-campus students for the fall semester under the current regulations. If an off-campus student is interested in the purchase of an off-campus dining plan they can add themselves to a waitlist. Dining will contact students on the waiting list as they are able to offer dining plans.

Q: If my dining plan was rolled over into the fall, but I’m an off-campus student now, can I still use my remaining dining plan balance?

A: Yes – if you rolled over your plan to fall 2020, you will be able to use your remaining Flex Dollars, Commuter Cash, Flex additions, and Dining Dollars at available dining facilities. You will not be able to add any additional money to your account, however. Any remaining balances must be used during the fall 2020 semester.

Q: What if I am living off-campus and do not want to use the Flex Dollars that were rolled over?

A: If you are living off-campus and have a Flex roll-over balance that you do not plan to use, you may request a refund of that balance prior to Aug. 1. This refund will just be for the Flex balance and does not include administrative fees. Please contact hokiepassport@vt.edu with your Virginia Tech email account to request a rebate on your rollover account from spring 2020. Rebates should be processed one-two weeks from the time of request. Balances can be located at www.hokiepassport.vt.edu

Q: Will fall 2020 dining plans be canceled automatically for off-campus students?

A: Fall 2020 dining plans for off-campus students will be canceled automatically in StarRez. Students do not need to take any further action at this time.

Q: Will dining facilities be accepting debit or credit cards to purchase food?

A: We will not be accepting debit/credit at the start of the semester as we work to better understand how our processes will change to accommodate physical distancing and other safety measures.

Q: If I do not have a dining plan, is there any place where can I get food while I’m on campus?

A: We will have food trucks on campus for students to use credit/debit or cash to purchase food. The coffee vendor in Newman Library will be open, as well as Subway and Seattle’s Best in Johnston Student Center. Virginia Tech is working with area restaurants and the Town of Blacksburg to make more options available for those without dining plans. More information will be announced as it becomes available.

— Written by Mason Adams