While pizza is a staple of just about every college dining program, a fair amount of the demand tends to occur in the late evening when most dining halls and campus retail locations are closed. But at Xavier University in Cincinnati, that won’t be a problem starting this fall, as the school is rolling out a totally automated, 24/7 pizza vending machine that will dispense gourmet pies made in the adjacent Hoff Dining Commons whenever a student (or staffer) wants it.
The medium-sized pizzas—the same as those served at Hoff’s pizza station—are par-baked and then transported on an insulated cart to the vending unit, which is in the atrium of the residence hall complex where Hoff is also located just across the way.
The machine can hold up to 70 pies at a time. Varieties will include cheese, sausage, pepperoni, vegetable, margarita and specials like Buffalo chicken. Each costs $9 and can be paid for with either a credit card or student card using the school’s X-Cash declining balance option.
The pizzas are held in the machine’s cooler unit until an order is placed, at which point the chosen pie is automatically transferred to the unit’s built-in convection oven, baked at 475°F, boxed and dispensed. Each transaction takes about three minutes.
“We were looking for a late-night option for our students,” explains Jennifer Paiotti, director of marketing for Xavier auxiliary services. “The resident dining hall closes at 8 p.m., and while there some options [that remain open] on campus we have a lot of late-night classes and we decided to go this route to give another option to student groups, students coming out of class, those studying and so forth.”
The machine is scheduled for a soft opening Aug. 22 and full operation beginning Sept. 8. The product mix, restocking frequency and other factors will be determined based on customer feedback and usage patterns.
The unit is able to track transactions and provide detailed transaction data, which can be used to modify offerings to meet customer preferences. Pricing can also be adjusted remotely and quickly if needed, for example to prompt sales of unsold pies late in the restock cycle or to accommodate a special event. The machine can also take coupon codes that give users or groups discounts or free pizzas.
Promotion is also being done through social media, especially the Yik Yak platform on which the Pizza ATM will have its own profile, Paiotti says. “Yik Yak is very large on our campus and we’ll utilize it to see what students are asking for and get really great feedback.”
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