Technology & Equipment

Campus Dining Challenges? Here’s How Schools Solved Them With Food Lockers

Apex Order Pickup Solutions

At first glance, it might seem that the purpose of food lockers is to provide fast, secure order pickup for busy students and guests. But that’s just the beginning. College and university dining leaders use smart food locker solutions in a variety of unexpected ways, depending on the unique challenges they face.

Here are a few recent examples of how leading higher ed dining programs are using smart food pickup solutions to solve challenges like reducing crowds and lines, securing mobile orders, expanding remote dining options and optimizing labor.

Challenge: Keep track of mobile orders and reduce lines at the counter

At Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pa., a library cafe called The Grind @ FML is a busy hangout spot for students to socialize and grab a quick bite as they study or head to class. Many of these students order ahead using their Grubhub Campus app, and over the years, the number of mobile orders has dramatically increased. That meant simply placing mobile orders on the counter for pickup was no longer effective or practical. The pickup process was inefficient and confusing, and orders were frequently picked up by the wrong person.

As the 2023 fall semester began, Lehigh’s foodservice management team introduced an Apex pickup locker solution for managing all those mobile orders. Students can count on quick order pickup, there’s less crowding at the counter and lost orders have been virtually eliminated. In just one semester, the food locker at The Grind handled more than 13,000 mobile orders. In their next phase of adoption, the Lehigh team plans to use a larger bank of food lockers in an upcoming food hall scheduled to open in Spring of 2025.

Challenge: Expanding food options in locations with limited dining access

Building a new dining facility is expensive and can take years to complete, so sometimes a more innovative alternative is called for. At the University of Arizona in Tucson, the foodservice team wanted to add more dining options near the Bear Down Building, home to a popular rec center, support services and a grab-and-go market. However, it would be several years before a new facility could be built.

That’s when the Arizona dining team developed a “hub-and-spoke” solution. Guests can place Grubhub orders from restaurants in the nearby student center food court and have them delivered to food lockers in the Bear Down building, just outside the grab-and-go market.

This simple system means students and staff now don’t have to leave the Bear Down Building when it’s time for a meal or snack, and they enjoy more menu options, too.

Challenge: Reimagine a retail food court as a flexible, high-capacity ghost kitchen

Texas A&M University-Commerce had a busy food court in its student center called the Lion’s Lair. This popular location could get crowded and when staff was limited there could be long wait times for ordering and payment. The foodservice management team decided to transform the Lion’s Lair into a streamlined ghost kitchen, replacing the counters and registers with a set of three automated pickup solutions from Apex.

Now, students can use their Transact mobile app to order ahead from a variety of concepts, avoiding a wait at the counter to place their order and pay. They can simply come in, pick up their order in less than 10 seconds and be on their way.

This system also benefits back-of-house employees, who can focus on efficient food production and handling increased volumes during lunch and dinner hours. In one recent month, the small Lion’s Lair team of three cooks and one expediter served 4,135 orders through the lockers.

These three C&U dining locations are great examples of how foodservice leaders use innovative technology to respond to the unique challenges on their campus. With versatile food locker solutions in their toolkit, they can achieve multiple benefits while often reducing costs and improving the dining experience.

This post is sponsored by Apex Order Pickup Solutions