Sage Dining Services in early March rolled out a mobile application called Touch of SAGE to its 250 locations that allows students and parents to check menus, provide feedback and, perhaps mostly significantly, sort out dishes by the food allergens they contain. The company operates primarily in the private K-12 and higher education segments.
Sage already has an allegen filter available to students in its cafeterias, but the program’s incorporation into the mobile app now allows easy access to the service anywhere and anytime after the menu is posted.
Touch of SAGE also allows access to the complete menu for the current cycle.
“It gives nutrition information, ingredients for each item and the Sage Spotlight color [which tags an item by how healthful it is],” explains Leela Sedaghat, senior software engineer at Sage. “[Viewers] can also give feedback as there is a direct route from each item and students can rate that item and tell us how often they want to see it on the menu. We can then use their feedback to improve our menus because it lets our managers create menus that cater better to the [individual] communities.”
The nutrition information, especially calories, is restricted for pre-college age students to guard against possible misuse, says Jason Ross, director of software development.
“We don’t expose nutritional information to K-12 without a password as part of our eating disorder awareness program,” he explains. “We have worked with the National Eating Disorders Prevention program at Sheppard Pratt and developed a program five or six years ago [through which] we try to encourage healthy meals and lifestyles and that all foods have their place” in a healthy diet.
The app allows students not only to create a custom allergen profile but also to save the settings so that each time they access the menu, the filter automatically applies their profile preferences and restrictions. Parents see the same menus their children do on the app and can use it to recommend certain items. The child then gets a notification with a thumbs-up sign next to the items parents designate when they access the menu.
When the free app was made available to Sage’s 250 locations it saw over 1,200 downloads after just a week. The custom, house-developed application is available in iOS (Apple) and Android versions.
“We began a series of marketing campaigns at all of our venues after the rollout, with flyers, handouts and fun events with snacks and beverages as well as contests between regions to see how many signups they could get,” Ross says. “The 1,200 [downloads in the first week] exceeded our expectations. We thought it would be [more of a] slow promotional piece, but every day we’re seeing more and more sign up and the volume of comments and feedback is growing exponentially.”
The app is available to all Sage clients in both the K-12 and higher education segments, though there are differences because of the different ways foodservice is delivered in different venues and to different demographics.
For example, some private school accounts have “board” systems for their meal programs in which the lunch is included in the tuition, while others are retail/a la carte.
For the latter, Ross suggests, the mobile app may add capabilities that log a child’s purchases for parents to review, as well as a remote payment component that would allow parents to fund meal accounts.