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Virginia Tech Dining Services touch screens improve efficiency, guest experience

By Will Rizzo

Virginia Tech Dining Services
New touch screen kiosks at six dining venues on campus will speed up the ordering process and shorten lines. Photo by Darren Van Dyke for Virginia Tech.

Students, faculty, and staff will have more options to order their favorite drinks and entrees this semester as Virginia Tech’s Dining Services expands its use of technology to cater to undergrads accustomed to ordering meals through touch screens and their cellphones.

“These technologies are part of our students’ lives, and we’ve wanted to incorporate them into their dining experience,” said Ted Faulkner, director of Dining Services. “We’re really excited to extend these services to our guests.”

Dining Services is launching touch screen kiosks in six venues on campus that will allow customers to order, customize their meals, and pay with a dining plan or credit card without needing a cashier. Another screen will display the queue of orders, track the preparation of each meal, and show estimated wait times at nearby venues.

The service, called Grubhub Ultimate, is available at the following shops: Soup Garden in Turner Place, Au Bon Pain in Squires Student Center, Deet’s Place in Dietrick Hall, Seven70 Deli at West End Market, and in the Owens Food Court at Freshëns and Tazón.

The new service will also improve the efficiency of dining centers in several ways, said Stephen Garnett, contract administrator for Dining Services.

“Our students are used to using touch screens at places like Starbucks, Panera, and McDonalds,” said Garnett. “They’ll be able to swipe a card, easily and quickly customize their meal, or re-order a favorite entree from a previous visit.”

The screens provide more places for students to order in each dining center, shortening lines, and with fewer cashiers, allow more staff to prepare food, Garnett said.

A case study of a similar-sized university found a 10 to 15 percent drop in wait times after installing kiosks and touch screens at three locations. The three shops were also able to process 2,620 more orders per week, according to data supplied by Grubhub.

In addition, Dining Services will be working to boost the use of Grubhub’s mobile ordering app, previously called Tapingo, which has been available on campus since 2017. Grubhub Inc. purchased the San Francisco-based ordering service in 2018.

The mobile app allows students to browse menus, customize orders, and pay with a meal plan from anywhere on campus, without having to wait in line. They can order from a residence hall or at the end of a lecture, and based on the wait time provided through the app, walk to the dining center to pick up their order.

Since its launch, mobile ordering has expanded to 33 dining venues, most recently adding Atomic Pizzeria at Turner Place, takeout from D2 in Dietrick Hall, and the new shops created by the renovation of Owens Food Court.

As part of the new touch screen system, students with existing Grubhub accounts received a prompt to update their payment information when they returned to campus and logged into the mobile app or swiped a card at the new ordering screens, said Garnett.

By any measure, the mobile ordering option has become popular with students since its launch, with 11,500 users last year.

“When we implemented Tapingo in 2017, Virginia Tech had the highest year-one adoption rate of any college or university in the country,” said Laura Pontier, assistant director of operations development with Dining Services. “We did 600,000 transactions during its first year.”

Last year, Jamba, a juice and smoothie franchise in Turner Place, was the most popular venue for students using the app with more than 54,000 orders. The Fighting Gobbler Sports Lounge in West End Market and Deet’s Place coffee shop in Dietrick Hall were the second and third locations, respectively, for mobile orders during the 2018 and 2019 academic year.

The most popular menu item for students swiping and tapping their phones for a meal? A half basket of french fries from The Fighting Gobbler Sports Lounge with 18,102 orders.

“Implementing new technologies and improving our efficiency has been a long term goal for Dining Services,” said Garnett. “Implementing these kiosks will help us handle more customers while continuing to give our guests a great experience.”

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