daytime interior view of education building Marietta College Student Dining

Our Insights

Recalibrate to Reconnect on Campus

Professional Consulting Series

By: NORR Education Studio

Can we reconfigure student spaces designed to bring people together to safely keep them apart?

Campuses around the World are now contemplating how they, or if they, will reopen for the next semester, and what exactly reopening will look like. Enrollment size, social distancing, digital learning, classroom configuration, residence hall occupancy, organization of social spaces and the relationship the campus has with the adjacent city or town in which it is located are all fundamental points of discussion. How the physical environment responds in combination with new social and health needs is critical to a successful implementation of on-campus learning and the student social experiences they have come to expect. We are working with our University clients to help adapt their spaces to deal with some of these anticipated issues and in this article, we look at one key space that is central to most campuses, student dining spaces.


Consider the main dining facility (or facilities) on campus. Whether you operate an all-you-care-to-eat facility or a retail venue, proper social distancing will need to be designated and maintained at entrances, queuing areas and exits. Transaction counter protection, PPE and COVID-19 signage must be in place to reduce physical contact points. A circulation signage plan can determine the overall movement pattern, signage placement, and appropriate social distancing.

Cleanliness has always been paramount at food service facilities; however, colleges and universities may need to consider additional precautions. Strategically placing hand sanitizing stations offers students, faculty and staff more opportunity to regularly clean their hands. Touchless technologies can reduce contact points in public and back-of-house restrooms, kitchens and prep areas. Staff may be required to clean and wipe all surfaces as seats turn over. Buffets and self-serve food stations may be eliminated altogether in favor of prepackaged meals. Shared utensils, condiments¬, and beverage stations may be avoided in favor of single-use, prepackaged items. Grab-n-go options can limit the time one spends in line assembling a meal.

Dining has always been a social activity on campus. The time students spend in their seats should be limited to reduce exposure to and distribution of aerosols. This may mean establishing dining shifts, managing turnover of tables, booths and seats, installing table-top timers, or having someone manage table occupancy. Like the Maître D’ managing a restaurant, campuses can employ a similar strategy to turn over the dining room. Students may need to be directed to available seats by an individual or appropriate signage.

Retail food venues have an advantage in the post-pandemic campus setting; they are already established as a grab-n-go operation. Mobile ordering limits waiting times, and orders can be processed quickly by employees using tablets when lines are long. Food orders are packaged for quick takeaway. The necessary physical modifications are focused on point of sale protection such as plexiglass shielding, queuing space and contactless delivery.


The vibrant campus community doesn’t disappear overnight. With strategic precautions and slight behavioral adjustments, dining facilities can still foster connections, build community and advance our health and well-being. Colleges and universities can recalibrate how they operate to reconnect with students.

ArrivalVestibuleProvide hand sanitizing stations, masks or disposable gloves.
Queuing AreaIndicate appropriate social distances by signage, floor markings or stanchions.
Host StationProvide transparent screens that protect students and hosts while maintaining interpersonal contact.
ServerySelf-Serve BuffetUtilize prepacked food items such as salads, feature selections and desserts for grab-n-go. Include utensils and condiments inside the packaging to avoid shared storage areas.
Condiment StationProvide individual serving sizes in lieu of shared pumps, nozzles or taps.
Individual Food VenueProvide prepacked meals for quick grab-n-go. Transparent screens between guests and servers that provide protection while meal is assembled to order. Provide individual serving sizes in lieu of shared pumps, nozzles or taps.
Food Prep AreasProvide PPE including masks and gloves for anyone preparing foods. Provide a protocol to check employee health and hygiene practices in accordance with CDC guidelines. Restrict the number of employees in shared spaces, including kitchens, break rooms, and offices to maintain at least a 6-foot distance between people.
Dining Seating Front of HouseTake measures to minimize face-to-face contact that allows, to the extent possible, at least a 6-foot distance between workers, customers and visitors
Seating AreaFrequently clean and disinfect floors, counters and other facility access areas using approved disinfectants. Encourage spacing between customers while in line for service or check out in accordance with the applicable State or local requirements.
Buffets and Self ServeDiscontinue operations, such as salad bars, buffets and beverage service stations that require customers to use common utensils or dispensers.
Food DeliveryPractice social distancing (e.g. offer “no-touch” deliveries and sending text alerts or calling when order is ready).


Resilient dining facilities go far beyond the current or next virus. Truly resilient building solutions require the commitment of students, faculty, staff and administration. Inspired design is just one piece of the integrated thinking required to bring these facilities to fruition. We can all reap the long-term benefits of sustainable, resilient and safe spaces designed to bring people together.