Last year, a visit to Lemongrass—a Far East-themed retail outlet with a sushi counter—at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind., took much longer from the time the student walked through the door until they received their order. But this year, wait times have dropped by 23 percent thanks to an academic partnership between Purdue Dining & Catering and the school’s Industrial Engineering 431 Senior Design Capstone Project.
“Every year we work with this class on different projects we’re looking for solutions on,” says Tom Coleman, director of retail dining. “We may work with them on up to five different projects on a semester basis.”
For the Lemongrass project, retail dining presented a group of four students with a challenge dining was hoping to overcome: Improve the efficiency of service and customer flow at Lemongrass. Coleman and his team explained the scope of the project and all the nuances of the operation to the students. They were invited into the space and behind the scenes to get the clearest understanding possible.
Over the course of the semester, students met with dining on an on-going basis as they worked to identify a solution. They studied the operation, ran simulations and trials and, at the end of the semester, presented their solutions.
Among their recommendations, students suggested creating two clear paths, one for Lemongrass and one for the sushi counter where orders can be placed before the line remerges at the register. Students also suggested a new paper-based ordering method for the sushi counter, relocating menu boards and rearranging seating for better flow.
“Their solutions met our immediate needs,” says Coleman. “Plus, it didn’t carry with it any major costs, beyond some theatre roping to help with queuing, so they could be implemented immediately.”
As a result of this partnership, the reduction in wait time at Lemongrass adds up to two hours saved for customers every day.
“The greatest value for us is being able to work with students from an academic, engineering standpoint to give them real challenges that need real solutions,” says Coleman. “It gives them a unique opportunity to apply their skills, learn how to deal with clients and determine how best to approach a problem.”
Along with the Lemongrass project, engineering students studied line queueing in the dining courts and the efficiency of the Hillenbrand Dining Court Take Back program last fall. In the spring, IE 431 teams have been working on projects on the operational efficiency of Harrison Grillé, Pete’s Za and the Daily Bite food truck. They’ve also been working on outside patio layout and design at Ford Dining Court as well as the efficiency in the Purdue Memorial Union catering kitchen and dish room.
“Being able to tap into this resource is so valuable both for dining services but also for the university and students,” says Coleman. “It gives us a chance to get a completely different perspective on the challenges we face and it gives the students a chance to put their education to good use. This partnership brings what we do here at Purdue full circle and it truly benefits everyone involved.”