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Best practices for mobile ordering on campus

How to bolster mobile ordering with dedicated venues, kiosks, lockers, robots and more

Andrew Hudson   ||   Jan 06, 2023  ||   ,

Universities continue to modernize campus dining with mobile ordering and other tech solutions, and when done right, it brings a host of benefits to operators and patrons. But it’s more than just offering food menus and deliveries via student, staff and faculty smartphones, says Ben Anderson, director of strategic sales for Grubhub, during a recent webinar about “Mobile Ordering and Food Services Best Practices.”

Grubhub is a pioneer of mobile ordering, and for the last decade, the company has been working to help higher education institutions beef up their dining options. It’s a task that often parallels campus efforts to offer advanced payment options that help drive the mobile ordering engine.

Big digital idea

“Many students already have the Grubhub app when they come to campus,” says Anderson. “But that’s not enough.”

The bigger idea is for campuses to use technology to build what he calls “a branded ecosystem,” that includes physical pick-up locations for food, geo-location software, QR codes and more ways for off-campus students to use their flexible dining points or dollars.

We help campuses build a technological foundation that can expand into new areas – from kiosks and mobile ordering counters to food storage and pick-up lockers, and even delivery robots.

“We help campuses build a technological foundation that can efficiently expand into new areas – from kiosks and mobile ordering counters to food storage and pick-up lockers, and even delivery robots,” explains Anderson.

No matter the plans from campus officials, such efforts all have a common starting point.

“No good program can operate without solid data,” insists Anderson. That data includes real-time updates of menus, up-to-the-minute prep time and order volumes, and an array of other information that gives dining administrators the visibility to better serve customers.

Fulfillment role

Campuses are already taking major steps forward with mobile ordering, establishing designated areas for mobile orders in set dining locations, and even creating new venues dedicated to mobile customers. The rule of thumb offered by Anderson is that when any one delivery method reaches 30% of order volume, it probably deserves its own staging area so that efficiency isn’t throttled.

Order fulfillment is another big part of the overall technology proposition when it comes to improving campus dining. Fulfillment needs to be a big part of the decision-making process for campus officials when considering how to meet student and staff expectations for mobile ordering.

The rule of thumb for food pickup is that when any one delivery method reaches 30% of order volume, it probably deserves its own staging area so that efficiency isn’t throttled.

Anderson described how Grubhub powers a system in which consumers order snacks or meals that can be paid for via campus cards, Apple Pay or other methods – and then be retrieved from a bank of smart lockers. Users can be issued a QR code that, when placed under a scanner, opens a locker where back-of-the-house food workers have deposited the order.

It’s a system that follows the smart locker formula used by Amazon, select convenience stores and other locations for e-commerce orders.

“We think of these as arrows in the quiver to handle different situations on campus,” Anderson says, describing the lockers. “We can create all these new options for students, and those options provide added benefits such as more up-selling, less congestion and real-time venue management.”

Marrying dining technologies

Anderson used Ohio State University as a prime example of some of the changes taking place in campus dining. They started with dedicated pickup windows with TV screens that show which orders are ready and which are being processed.

The university also added new food areas and venues with kiosk ordering. As adoption grew, more designated pickup spaces for mobile orders were added, and specific cashiers were assigned to keep the mobile traffic flowing.

“In the technology age, transparency is good customer service,” says Anderson.

The technology has also identified areas of campus where delivery drivers don’t find it easy to serve. Such areas might be better served by delivery robots.

A now well-proven supplement to mobile ordering, delivery robots have cemented themselves as a viable service for campuses of all shapes and sizes. With the likes of Starship Technologies, Kiwibot, Cartken and others now providing their autonomous delivery robots nationwide, the often troublesome “last mile” of food delivery has become a lot easier.

In the technology age, transparency is good customer service.

Grubhub has established partnerships with Cartken, Kiwibot and Starship Technologies, making the integration between the Grubhub platform, the university’s campus card system, and delivery robots a seamless endeavor.

Regardless of the chosen dining technology, Anderson suggests starting small – in a single coffee shop or busy location – and then working up from there as data comes in and consumer demands become clear. He also advises campus officials to build partnerships and pursue technology integrations to get as much bang for their buck as possible.

Small beginnings, however, should never compromise the larger vision. Anderson equally encourages campus admins to think big.

“I think you want to be ambitious. You really have to have a vision, and that vision may change every quarter. You want to get to a point where you create substantial value,” says Anderson. “This is going to be a tool for what’s next.”

More information on mobile ordering can be found at onsite.grubhub.com.

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