If you haven’t noticed yet, everything’s pretty much changed. With the whole A-L-M-Z split, social distancing, and the new Lovett street hallways, it's been a little weird. One of the major changes has been the lunch experience. The chaos of finding a table while getting hot lunch by the time the period ended was the entire high school lunch experience, at Lovett and in every teen movie you’ve ever seen.
Now, it’s turned into a strict order of getting the only option and sitting down on any white dot you can find near your friends. Freshman and sophomores pick up their lunch near the Wallace Gym hallway, and juniors and seniors pick their lunch up at the Lions Den Café. If you’re going to trip on your way to your seat, as happens so often in the movies, it’s going to be in the bright light of day.
Pre-Corona, the hot food items at the Café were pizza and sandwiches. There were typically 100-175 customers for lunch, and now, through the Café, the staff is feeding 400 students and soon to be double once everyone arrives.
My tour guide for the lunchroom rundown was Chef Kat. She walked me all through the Café and back rooms to show me how the lunch system has evolved. She explained to me each important factor that contributes to the smooth running of the lunch making and distribution experience.
In order to satisfy the food needs of students, the Café had to rent commercial kitchen items in order to house any hot items. They had to rent equipment to store products at a volume they’ve never had to before. New sheet pans and large volumes of products were ordered.
Chef Kat explains that “It took lots of math. We’ve never stored this many items before. I tend to over order on things just to make sure we don’t run out. We assess each day and make changes and updates. We call it ‘menu engineering.’”
The food is stored in a hot box staged near the water bottle coolers in the Café. Luckily, anything that needs to be kept at room temperature like chips can be loaded the day before to save time.
Since there isn’t a lot of freezer space, the majority of the lunches come from fresh products. All deli meats are Boar’s Head, and the only thing kept frozen is the pizza. Because of this, additional refrigeration had to be purchased to help store fresh items, which means more equipment around the Café. If you walk through the back alley near the pool, you can see the walk-in freezer that helps keep the fresh fruit, yogurt, and salads fresh; most vegetables are pre-bagged, which is safer and less time-consuming.
Chef Kat light-heartedly said, “Sometimes it gets really hot outside while we’re cooking, so we’ll step in there to cool down. It’s refreshing.”
The staff has also borrowed grills from the Lion-backers from the football games. Since those games weren’t happening for a while, they were able to grill the hotdogs and chicken that were in some of our meals.
Most of the menu items are planned two weeks out. The staff prints out the menu each day, so everyone knows what to bag for the day. Chef Kat explains that at the beginning of the school year, it was easier to make the menu the same for Lower, Middle, and Upper school. But, as time progressed, there are things that Upper School students find more appealing than younger ones, so they’ve made creative changes in that sense. They have also increased the portion sizes for the Upper School because there is no time for seconds.
However, the menu change wasn’t even one of the hardest changes for the staff. It was actually finding desserts that were completely nut-free and peanut-free.
But throughout all the struggle and changes, the staff has tried to keep spirits high. Every day, they sit at the high-tops for staff lunches and eat together. They have tried implementing normal treats throughout the month such as the biscuits and chocolate milk for hump day since those were Café breakfast classics.
It’s all been an adjustment, Chef Kat says. “We’re not open as a Café, so being closed is not having people constantly come in and out. I miss it a lot. I mean, sure, not being open makes it easier to get work done, but I miss seeing everyone. I miss the seniors. Hopefully we open soon.”