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Smart lockers boost mobile food orders at pair of universities

The deployment of automated smart lockers at Westminster College coincided with a reported 1,000% increase in mobile food orders thanks to the self-service pickup option. The feat was repeated when Maryville University followed suit with its own deployment of the smart locker system in a ghost kitchen format at an on-campus dining venue.

According to a report from Food Management, the brains behind the smart locker solution is a partnership of Fresh Ideas Food Service Management and startup Minnow, who provides the automated “pickup pod” hardware.

The Minnow pickup pods are accessed with a unique code sent to each user’s phone that enables them access a designated locker in the pod that contains their mobile order. The formula helps students avoid wait times and queues.

The initiative has produced some notable advantages at Missouri’s Westminster College, where the pickup pod was installed mid-semester this past spring to serve a campus retail dining outlet.

“We’ve had our Fresh-X mobile app available there for quite some time, but customers still seemed to want to come in to order and then wait in line even though they had the option of mobile ordering,” said Bob Love, Chief Technology Officer at Westminster College, in a Food Management interview. “We wondered if we could make an impact if we gave them a new solution to pick up their mobile order.”

Average daily mobile order sales at the Westminster location were “barely measurable” prior to the pickup pod, but rose 1,000% after the pods became available. University officials concede that some of that spike is a natural transferral of some counter orders to the mobile platform as popularity rises, but incremental sales also increased by 5%, meaning the venue did see a rise in overall business after the addition of pods.

“That’s $100 to potentially $300 a week in the middle of a semester when students are starting to run out of money, so for us that was a big win,” Love explains.

Just as important, however, the smart locker solution did deter students from waiting near the till for their orders to be prepared, alleviating congestion in the location and boosting overall customer satisfaction. Westminster issued a survey, sent by Fresh Ideas, and 52% of respondents reported that they planned to order more due to the availability of the pickup pods.

Fresh Ideas initially restricted pod usage to food orders only — citing worries that the ten pod slots would be overwhelmed by beverage-only orders from the location’s coffee bar — but survey respondents indicated a desire for all menu items to be available for pod pickup.

The second proving ground for the smart locker concept, St. Louis’ Maryville University, proved the solution’s utility in a ghost kitchen format.

Maryville is using its pickup pod to continue customer service at a dining location while a front-of-the-house renovation is being conducted. The location can prepare food in the kitchen and serve customers through the pickup pods, even though its dining area is unavailable due to ongoing construction.

At a third Fresh Ideas campus, Nebraska’s Midland University, the pods have been used for after-hours service, weekend mail pickup, and as a student engagement tool that saw a raffle winning student receive a code to retrieve their prize from the pod.

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