How Cashierless Technology Can Drive the Future of College Campus Dining

By Gary Jacobus - March 25, 2021

With COVID vaccination distribution in the U.S. ramping up fast, dozens of colleges and universities are announcing plans to go “back to normal”. With in-person instruction and campus activities looking likely for the fall semester of 2021, what does this mean for the future of campus foodservice? 

Even as college campuses strive to return after a difficult year of social distancing, quarantines and cancellations, it’s clear that the pandemic has brought some constructive changes to the university dining experience, such as an increased emphasis on public health, contactless payments, and a variety of convenient dining options beyond the traditional cafeteria format. 

Cashierless technology and other operational changes can help college campus foodservice operators improve their dining services beyond the pandemic. 

Cashierless Technology Helps Keep People Safe 

Colleges have implemented several safety measures and changes to their dining operations during the pandemic, including socially distanced seating, contactless payment, better-ventilated dining halls, and plexiglass barriers between students and staff. 

Cashierless technology is another feature that dining operations can implement for public health during the pandemic, which can also improve the customer experience for the post-pandemic future. Checkout-free technology eliminates the lines and crowds of a traditional cafeteria. Students can get their food quickly, exit the food service area, and go back to their table or take their food to go. This helps keep people safe from the virus while providing more flexible, efficient dining options. 

Checkout-Free Technology Helps Meet Demand for Variety of Campus Dining Options  

One lesson from the pandemic for college campuses is that students are demanding a better variety of options from their campus dining services. According to a recent article from Trevor Ferguson, field president at Aramark, college students want a wider range of alternative service offerings to get their meals, including:

  • Individually packaged grab-and-go meals
  • Micro markets and pop-up grocery stores
  • Easy-to-assemble prepare-at-home options  

Zippin can help provide these different types of dining experiences. For example, as well as powering micro-markets like the “Drink MKT” that appears at several sports venues, Zippin technology for campus foodservice can support hot food items that are freshly prepared and then kept warm in commercial food warmers.

Looking ahead, the traditional cafeteria style foodservice kitchen, communal salad bar, or crowded indoor dining hall is unlikely to return anytime soon; there are faster, more flexible ways to help provide foodservice experiences that suit the demands of today’s student population.  

Cashierless Technology Improves Operations for Campus Dining Services 

In addition to providing a better, more efficient student dining experience, checkout-free technology -  like Zippin - can also help foodservice operators improve their efficiency in several key ways: 

  • Better inventory management: Zippin’s cashierless technology doesn’t just improve the customer’s experience when making a purchase; it helps foodservice operators get better visibility of which items are in stock, how to get in-demand items ready quickly, and more. 
  • Better product variety: Zippin’s venue operator and foodservice partners have frequently mentioned how checkout-free technology helps them offer a better variety of products. The general manager knows precisely what products guests are seeking most often, enabling the foodservice venue to offer a wide array of products when, where, and how the guests want to consume them. 
  • More efficient staffing levels: Checkout-free technology lets venues and foodservice operators re-deploy their staff to where they are needed, whether that’s restocking shelves, preparing hot food, dealing with peak demand times, or cleaning the dining areas. 
  • 24/7 access: In his article, Trevor Ferguson also cited survey data from McKinsey which found that 38% of college students want dining options open 24/7. Checkout-free technology can power this 24/7 availability, but without needing staff present around the clock. Zippin is already doing test runs of checkout-free convenience store formats in Japan for hotels and hospitals. The same formats are perfect for college campuses.  

We believe that the future of campus foodservice is checkout-free. Campus life beyond the pandemic is likely to see a continued demand for flexible dining options, grab-and-go meals, and convenient 24/7 access to food and beverages. 

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