HillsideCafe.jpg Boston College Dining
Busy Hillside Café at Boston College sees some 3,000 transactions a day, making it a natural venue for a preorder option that lets customers avoid the lines.

Boston College experiments with preorders at retail venue

Selections from Hillside Café’s lunch and dinner menus can be ordered in advance and ready for pickup in 30 minutes.

The convenience of remote ordering that avoids long waits in line is one of those trends prevalent in the college-age demographic. That’s the thought behind a new service recently rolled out at Boston College, where students and adult staff can use the GET Mobile app from vendor CBORD Group to order off the lunch and dinner menus at the school’s popular Hillside Café retail dining location.

The food can be ordered as much as six days in advance and a pickup time designated for as soon as 30 minutes from when the order is placed. Pickup is at a special window in Hillside that avoids waiting at the order counter.

The service was piloted with a few students last fall and expanded to some of the heaviest Hillside users in February. Full rollout to the entire campus took place earlier this month.

Adoption has been somewhat slow in the early going, reports Megan O’Neill, associate director of restaurant operations for BC Dining, as a few weeks into the full rollout, preorders are running at only a couple of dozen a day, a small fraction of Hillside’s some 3,000 daily transactions.

“I think it is just that we’ve talked so much about a soft opening that students think it’s not ready for them yet,” O’Neill speculates. “We are setting up information tables at Hillside over the next couple weeks to let them know it’s available now. I think we just have to get the word out.”

The orders that are coming in currently tend to be split between those who want pickup as soon as possible, and those ordering for a future time.

Hillside’s somewhat static menu was an advantage for making it the initial site to adopt remote ordering. The venue, located on the college’s lower campus where about half the student population lives, offers a selection of soups, hot and cold sandwiches and grab-and-go salads that are simple to assemble and hold for pickup. It also includes a branded Starbucks coffee station. Hours are 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday to Thursday and to 4 p.m. on Fridays. It’s closed weekends.

The breakfast menu is currently not available for the preorder option—order pickups cannot be scheduled before 9:30 a.m.—nor is Hillside’s burger bar, though the latter is expected to be added the first week of April, O’Neill says.

Online orders pretty much mimic in-person preferences, O’Neill reports. “Typically, we’ll see [orders for] a sandwich and a specialty drink.”

The Hillside staff is ready for large preorder volumes whenever they start, O’Neill says.

“We set up an area in the back anticipating a crowd. We have a sandwich station back there with an expediter who [makes sure they have all] the items they need to go make the sandwich orders.”

The app connects to the college’s enrollment system, so when students initially log in to set up their accounts they use their college username and password, which connects it to their meal plan. They can also add a credit card and use whichever option they wish when they place an order.

The app retains favorite order info, so it doesn’t have to be constantly re-entered, as well as preferences such as fresh fruit instead of chips with a sandwich or extra cream with a coffee drink.

“The one thing we did hear from all the test cases was how easy the system is to use,” O’Neill offers. She adds that the pilot did yield some changes and tweaks, such as adding the option to choose dips and dressings, which had been left off initially.

She thinks the preorder system will be quite popular once students realize the option is available.

“It’s nice. They can skip the line, they can skip the register and they just go to the pickup window, show their phone or their receipt and it’s all ready for them. They can grab it and walk out the door. We’re looking forward to it getting crazy busy and saving student, faculty and staff time from standing in line.”

Expansion of the preorder system to other campus retail dining venues is possible down the line, she adds, but not this school year.

TAGS: Management
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