University of New Hampshire students returning to Durham for the Spring Semester marks a spike in business and busyness for local restaurants and campus dining halls. 

The impact of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has changed the scape of dining over the last year: lunch and dinner rushes are slower, close-up tables and bars have been spread out, and college dining halls like those in Durham have been forced to adapt for the safety of faculty and students. Despite the adversity the restaurant and dining industry has faced and must continue to face in the midst of this pandemic, Durham’s restaurants and UNH’s dining halls have shifted their practices in the best interest of safety for their patrons. 

UNH Dining has a COVID-19 FAQ page where common issues and concerns about dining halls during a pandemic are addressed. Standard protocols are in place to reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19, meaning distanced tables, frequent sanitization at high touch surfaces, plexiglass barriers and more.  

There have been some shifts to procedures: for example, the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services doesn’t allow for self serve dishes in the dining halls, which has adapted the meals that are being served. Many of the campus cafes have been closed, so Cafe Central has opened at the Whittemore Center, offering soups, salads, sandwiches, pizza and more. It will be closed for the start of the spring semester but reopens on Monday, February 8th. 

Food orders from Wildcatessen and Philbrook Cafe are now placed with Grubhub, where students can use Dining Dollars, Cat’s Cache, or a debit or credit card. At both of these locations – ‘Wildkitty’ located at Stillings Dining Hall, and Philbrook Dining Hall’s cafe, there’s a plethora of hot foods available – subs, waffle fries and plenty more grab n’ go items as well. 

Starting on February 1st, the ‘regular hours’ of the UNH Dining Hall schedule begins and is as follows: Holloway Commons and Philbrook 7:15 am to 9 pm, Stillings 7:15 am to 8 pm, Philbrook Cafe 7:30 am to 3 pm and 6 pm to 1 am, and Wildcatessen dinner 4 pm to 1 am, while breakfast is from 7:30 am to 1 am. The full dining schedule including the hours of operation before Monday, February 1st can be found under the Winter Hours page of the UNH Dining website. 

The Durham Business Association is providing patrons a fun way to show their support for local restaurants in the beginning of this year. They have started a “Restaurant Bingo” game: a purchase of ten dollars or more at a restaurant earns a punch on the card in that restaurant’s square. When participants have a bingo, double bingo or a full card, they can drop off their board at the Town Hall, Freedom Cafe or Three Chimneys Inn and they will be counted in a random drawing every Friday for raffle prizes – including gift cards to participating restaurants. The restaurants involved cover a range of foods and types of dining, ranging from Ciao Italia and Wildcat Pizza to the Works or the Spot. Restaurant Bingo started on January 15th and is going on through February 28th. 

Durham’s Economic Development Director Christine Soutter decided to try the idea in Durham and said she would love for students to get involved in the game as well. 

“We know that winter is a tough time for restaurants and the pandemic has added a layer of stress that is just painful. Anything we can do to encourage folks to support our great dining establishments is worth trying,” Soutter said. 

The full list of participating restaurants can be found on the Durham Business Association website. Any form of purchase counts for a punch as long as it’s at least ten dollars: takeout, dine-in, delivery or gift card. Participants are encouraged to keep their receipts as proof for each punch. Students can pick up their bingo card at any of the participating locations. 

Durham’s restaurants are doing the best they can to accommodate the comfort levels and safety needs of their patrons. Many locations have adapted their menus and streamlined them for takeout options. Restaurant.org  lists streamlined menus and an “overwhelming shift to off-premises dining” as a few of the top trends restaurants are taking in 2021. Another one of the growing trends includes alcohol to go, a takeout feature offered by Ciao Italia (beer and wine) and hop + grind (canned beers from local breweries). 

The new coffee bar, rise + grind, from the owner of hop + grind, is hoping to open in January as of mid-December, and was originally aiming to open in tandem with the start of UNH’s spring semester. On their Instagram page, they have shared a number of breakfast items in their test kitchen, including an Elena Ruiz sandwich on a bagel or a classic breakfast sandwich with maple sausage. Updates on rise + grind’s opening will continue in the coming weeks. 

The Big Bean continues to offer takeout and has plenty of great options for grabbing breakfast to go, including creating your own breakfast sandwiches with plenty of combinations, and quality coffee with unique flavor options like dark chocolate and cinnamon bun. While breakfast doesn’t always translate well to takeout, the Big Bean does breakfast takeout right – even with something like an eggs benedict – ensuring that the hollandaise is still hot and fresh and the egg is still runny. 

Campus favorite Ramon’s Food and Coffee Cart will not be open for the start of the semester, but they plan on returning to campus the first week of April. 

With students’ returns to campus marking another semester at UNH and in Durham, it is important to continue supporting Durham’s local restaurants during these tough times as much as possible. According to the Restaurant Performance Index, a monthly index that monitors the health and outlook of the nation’s restaurant industry, it fell 0.8% in November due to the pandemic. Restaurant workers and owners continue to work incredibly hard and strive for safety and well-being of their patrons – so it’s up to patrons to return the favor – and fill out those bingo cards! 

Photo courtesy of the Durham Business Association