It seems that strict meal plans that are only good in campus dining halls is becoming a thing of the past. Colleges and universities are teaming with Grubhub, the mobile food-ordering and delivery platform, to give students and faculty a wide choice of meal plan dining options, and facilitating food delivery to campus buildings.
The campus ordering technology was first launched in 2012 by a company called Tapingo that Grubhub acquired in 2018, according to Steve Iarocci, Director of Client Success at Grubhub. In its first six years, Tapingo rapidly expanded and worked with 150 universities by the time of the acquisition by Grubhub. Today, the offering is known as Grubhub Campus, and it currently partners with more than 270 schools.
By using the same Grubhub app that connects restaurants and diners in the broader market outside college campuses, Grubhub Campus enables students and faculty to select their school in the app, use the unique campus interface to link their meal plan as a payment option and order from on and off campus restaurants.
“It complements and enhances the university’s existing dining efforts,” Iarocci said. “Students can integrate their meal plans and dollars into the Grubhub app and place orders for pickup or delivery both on and off campus, including dining halls.”
Iarocci added that being tech-forward is a major focus area and priority for universities, and the dining experience is an area that’s primed for innovative solutions. “Students are always on the go and don’t always have lots of time to grab a meal” he explained. “With a Grubhub campus dining solution, students can order ahead and skip the line, minimizing long lines while maximizing staffing efforts.” Additional benefits include incentivizing repeat business by offering rewards and monetizing off-campus dining with Grubhub’s flexible spending program.
Integrating the meal plan with an expanded number of eateries is becoming even more helpful to students with the help of technology. While twenty years ago, the presence of robots roaming college and university campuses was the stuff of imaginative science fiction writers. However, today, meal-delivery robots are common at many schools.
Grubhub partners with the university or its food service provider to find the right solution for each individual school and deploys the technology in tandem to ensure a great dining experience for students and faculty. “Maybe this means they only want to enable on-campus ordering instead of flex, which enables students to use their meal plan to order both on and off campus, or provide robot delivery via one of our partners,” Iarocci said.
Grubhub has teamed up with autonomous vehicles manufacturers, including Starship, Cartken and Kiwibot, to deliver snacks and meals via robots on college campuses. The robots are roughly two feet tall and look like big coolers on wheels with a camera on the top, and they can move along sidewalks and across roads through snow and shallow standing water.
Ohio State University became the first campus to deploy Grubhub delivery via robots, parting with Cartken for the actual devices. The school had been offering Grubhub delivery on campus for multiple years before rolling out the first robots – called Rovers – across campus for the fall semester of 2021. At the beginning, robots could deliver to nearly 40 destinations on campus, and that number has increased over the past 15 months. Currently, seven restaurants are included in the plan. Right now, there are 50 robots deployed across campus, with plans to expand the number to 100, according to Zia Ahmed, Senior Director of Dining Services.
Rovers are versatile and need to “sleep” and recharge at night. Once recharged in the morning, they are deployed to different restaurants, which prepare the orders, deposit one order per Rover and then head off to the destination. Students can track the progress of the delivery and when the Rover arrives, they open the secure door with their phone.
“It’s part of the dining plan,” Ahmed said. “Our students can use their meal plan the same way they use it at any of the dining locations operated by university dining services.” There are currently seven restaurants in the plan.
The Rovers solve two problems. The first is reducing the time it takes to deliver food to students, and the second is minimizing the cost of food delivery. “The reason delivery typically takes so long is not necessarily the actual travel time but the last mile. Delivery drivers can easily come to campus, but they may not be able to park and drop food off at residence halls. That was the biggest bottleneck,” he said. “Rovers can go right to the residence hall, and there’s no parking issue.” In addition, the school was able to reduce the delivery fees, so students only pay $2.50 per order for the convenience.
Ahmed pointed out that the arrangement is not a new revenue generation source. “It’s a service that enhances student experience and provides greater choices,” he explained. “It’s been going for more than a year. Students love it, usage continues to grow, the school is optimizing routes on campus and the robots are becoming even more efficient.
“We’re not nearly optimized yet,” Ahmed said. “There are significant opportunities for growth here. But students are supporting that growth both by usage and feedback that they truly enjoy the service.” Ahmed said that after the heaviness of COVID, students are telling him that the Rovers elevate the mood on campus. “They’re fun and different and students had a good time when they were launched, trying to name them.”
Ahmed’s advice for other institutions thinking about this arrangement is to focus on mapping routes, making sure all campus partners including risk and emergency management and grounds crew are involved in the planning process and making sure there’s room to house the Rovers.