Miami of Ohio dining goes digital

tablet ordering digital dining

Customers at First Stop can order their own meals using the tablet's touch screen.

Digital dining is making the First Stop restaurant the “cool” place to eat at Miami University of Ohio, thanks to the marriage of new student ID cards with Google Nexus tablets.

The cards, which are one of the latest versions of smart cards on the market, have allowed dining services to use the tablets to facilitate ordering at First Stop, a breakfast-all-day restaurant at Maple Street Station. And the department plans to expand the program to a second location later this fall.

“The cards are NFC (near field communications)-enabled,” says Steve Thole, administrative liaison for Miami’s IT department. “You can hold the card up to a tablet and it can read the card without having a card swipe attached to it.”

Thole wrote an app that allows tablets to read the card’s ID number, identify the student and then pull up the First Stop menu.

Miami is using two types of tablets at First Stop. Servers have Google Nexus 7 tablets they use to take orders at tables. In addition, several booths are equipped with Nexus 10 tablets so that students can place orders themselves.

“The original intent was to save labor costs,” Thole explains. “Students would place their own orders and staff would be required only to run the orders out.”

However, because of issues such as security and power sources for the tablets, dining services opted to use a combination of the two systems.

Mark Andrea, manager of marketing and computer systems for dining services, adds that some students like the self-order option. “It eliminates that ‘Do I wait for a server?’ decision,” Andrea says. “The students really seem to love having both options. There’s a cool factor associated with them.”

One of the few drawbacks to the system is that it is not integrated with dining services’ POS system. The orders are transmitted from the tablets to a printer in the kitchen, which prints out the orders in the form of a bar code. Staff must then scan the bar code into the POS in order to print a ticket for the chefs.

“We also have to worry about battery power,” Thole says. “Servers have to make sure they take the tablets back from time to time and recharge them. Also, wireless can be sketchy at times.”

This is not Miami’s first foray into digital dining. Since 2007, the Scoreboard Market, a c-store with a grill area in the rear of the store, has used an ordering kiosk. Students can place a grill order and then shop for snack items while waiting for their food to be prepared.

Next up for dining services will be Pulley Diner, a ’50s-style diner in the Student Center, where the tablets will be introduced sometime after Thanksgiving.

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