Operations

Cashierless on campus

As foodservice operations go contact-free to reduce the spread of coronavirus, here’s a look at two cashierless concepts that were seeing success before the pandemic hit.
Photograph: Shutterstock

Even prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, a number of colleges had debuted cashierless foodservice concepts to appeal to students’ tech savviness, boost throughput and save on labor. As more operations go contact-free to reduce the spread of coronavirus, learn about two such concepts that had been seeing success in the months before the outbreak.

Focus on frictionless

When asked earlier this spring how Kentucky Wesleyan College students had responded to the recent addition of a cashierless convenience store on campus, John Ruppert didn’t mince words. “They … love it,” he said. “They absolutely love it.”

Part of the concept’s appeal is that it’s available almost 24/7, said Ruppert, district manager for Aladdin, a subsidiary of Elior North America that manages foodservice at the Owensboro, Ky., college. Students, faculty and staff enter the c-store, dubbed The Panther, by scanning their ID badge and can use credit, declining balance funds or flex dollars to make purchases. For additional security, cameras are stationed at the unit, he says, and consumers are made aware that they’re being recorded.

kentucky Wesleyan c-storePhotograph courtesy of Kentucky Wesleyan College

Items for sale in the 288-square-foot space mirror standard c-store products, Ruppert said, with a mix that includes bottled beverages, candies and some toiletries. Microwaveable meals prepped in the dining hall, such as baked chicken with green beans and potatoes, are offered as well, as are grab-and-go options such as yogurt parfaits, sandwiches and crudite cups.

An efficiency boost

Though Penn State University’s East Food District closed temporarily as students shifted to remote learning, the dining hall’s Bowls concept had seen an unexpected level of success earlier in the school year.

From the start of fall semester to the end of November, the concept sold more than 28,900 acai bowls at breakfast and lunch, in addition to poke bowls, oatmeal and overnight oats. Students could choose from preset acai bowl options as well as create their own, with toppings that included raspberries, strawberries, mango, kiwi, toasted coconut and mini chocolate chips.

Kiosk ordering helped ameliorate some labor challenges that existed during the concept’s previous iteration as a sushi station. And with a customizable item such as bowls, that tech had been key to boosting throughput, Manager Paulette Wilkinson told FSD: “We have other concepts where we don’t have a kiosk, and when you have so many options for [diners], it can sometimes tend to slow things down.”

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