Fully customizable dining app enhances the student experience
Card transaction system provider, TouchNet has entered the mobile ordering fold with the TouchNet OrderAhead app, which gives students the ability to place orders and pay for items from participating dining locations. But while mobile ordering on its own would be a boon to any campus, the OrderAhead app is bringing far more to the table amid the ongoing social distancing challenges posed by the coronavirus.
Campuses using OrderAhead can opt to use the app to control dining hall capacity and support social distancing, throttle orders, and improve overall dining order flow. The app also includes full administrative control, seamless integration with campus accounts, optional loyalty programs, and customizable reporting.
“The ability to get the ordering process into people’s hands directly has been vital, particularly these days, with concerns around having people in stores or too many people in a dining hall,” says Dave Falldien, Manager, Sales Engineering at TouchNet. “The ability to have orders prepared in advance, or to make dining reservations to help control the foot traffic to busy dining halls is huge.”
The OrderAhead app can be used to predict and control foot traffic and capacity at campus locations. It can also be used to identify trends or analyze transaction history to take the guesswork out of staffing, supply orders, and menu planning.
“The ability to get the ordering process into people’s hands directly has been vital, particularly these days, with concerns around having people in stores or too many people in a dining hall."
The app has an interface that consists of two primary components: the cashier view and the user view.
The cashier view displays all the pertinent information for the administrator, including which users are currently in a reservation, who is scheduled to show up for each reservation, and the people who have vacated a reservation.
“The student information is there so you can send push notifications directly to them,” says Falldien. “Administratively, it’s a web-based dashboard that shows the holistic view of orders, payments and reservations.”
From the user’s view, there are virtual storefronts made available within OrderAhead that each user can choose from and place orders. These storefronts can be displayed or hidden based on privileges set by the administrator.
“We have a campus in Canada using OrderAhead for bike rentals in addition to dining,” says Falldien. “In that instance, the university has limited the bike rental program to students, so only students see that particular store within the app.”
Another example is the provision of custom stores and menus within the app for students who may have food allergies or other restrictions. If a student with specific dietary requirements opts in, they will see all of the general stores, as well as an additional store that displays food choices and locations that meet their needs.
With OrderAhead, administrators can also designate stores that serve students based on specific residences – for example, this could be an option for isolation dorms used for quarantining. In this example, the store can have its own customized process with pre-built meals that can be picked up and delivered to that specific location.
“We’ve had customers exploring OrderAhead for all sorts of use cases, including booking vaccine reservations, a timeslot to go to the gym, an appointment and payment for replacement ID at the card office, and more."
There’s also a rewards component that can allocate points to students based on parameters that the campus sets, as well as optional upsell messages at checkout. Campuses can manage marketing campaigns, run detailed reports on those campaigns, and measure the impressions and success all via the online dashboard.
“We’ve had customers exploring OrderAhead for all sorts of use cases, including booking vaccine reservations, a timeslot to go to the gym, an appointment and payment for replacement ID at the card office, and more,” adds Falldien.
From a user perspective, TouchNet OrderAhead has much of the same functionality as other mobile ordering solutions, but there are ways to leverage OrderAhead that can make for a unique experience.
“Reporting across a campus’ platforms – i.e. which orders were taken in person vs. mobile – and the ability to leverage that information to enhance the student experience, execute marketing campaigns, and offer incentives is where OrderAhead really sets itself apart,” explains Falldien.
Natively, OrderAhead is using all aspects of TouchNet’s system, including declining balance, meal equivalency, meal exchange or generic meal swipes, and meal reservations. “But the added advantage with TouchNet is when a student cardholder logs in with their campus credentials, their campus account is automatically available,” he adds.
With TouchNet’s stored payment profiles, students can choose to add a credit or debit card. For administrators, all transactions will show up in the U.Commerce Dashboard for ease of reconciliation of both payment card and campus card transactions.
Also popular is the ability to build and bundle mobile orders. “For example, one entrée, two sides, and a drink can count as one meal equivalency, and our platform then removes one meal from the student’s plan,” says Falldien. If a student wants more than that, they can pay the excess with their credit card or declining balance account.
OrderAhead has only been live and available for a few months as of publication, launching in the fall of 2020.
“We have institutions doing 125 transactions per day during the breakfast timeslot alone,” says Falldien. “We’re routinely seeing in excess of 600 transactions per day on some of our campuses.”
Expanding the reach of OrderAhead beyond the borders of campus is another roadmap item. Campuses have this capability via OneCard terminals and readers, however moving this to OrderAhead makes everything available on the same app that students are already using across campus.
“There’s no reason why OrderAhead can’t be used away from campus, and we’re exploring the option of using declining balance funds off campus as well,” he says.
If the trends at OrderAhead’s early campuses is any indication, the solution will likely be a hit.
“Giving students the ability to order ahead, make reservations, and provide the option to use their campus accounts or a payment card, has been the biggest efficiency for our campuses and us."
“Almost all of our active campuses started out by limiting the scope of OrderAhead – one dining hall to test the waters – and then almost immediately expanded from a single store to all food service locations,” says Falldien. “When they realize how efficient this is, and how many people are using it, they want to do more with it.”
“Giving students the ability to order ahead, make reservations, and provide the option to use their campus accounts or their payment card, has been the biggest efficiency for our campuses and us,” says Falldien. “OrderAhead is helping us empower our campuses to put these types of services right into the hands of students from a single application.”