Ithaca College Dining Services is working to release a mobile app that will enable students and faculty to preorder and prepay for their food from Sodexo-run facilities on campus.
The app, called GET Mobile, will be made available for students at the college on mobile devices and through an online portal. It is slated to be released January 2016 in time for the spring semester. Initially, mobile ordering will be available only from select locations on campus: SubConnection, Sandella’s in IC Square and Sandella’s Express at The Circles Market.
Jeff Scott, general manager for Sodexo at the college, said off-campus mobile ordering is popular among students, and Sodexo wants to offer a similar platform for on-campus dining.
Scott said the new service will be especially useful to staff on lunch breaks or students with tight schedules, allowing them to avoid long lines and get food reliably at a predetermined time.
“If it’s really busy at an area, but [students] know with confidence they could pick up at, say, 12:10 or 12:20, they could manage their day,” Scott said. “They don’t have to come and wait in line.”
David Dow, supervisor at IC Square Sandella’s, said while he saw time-saving potential in the new system, it would come with its own challenges, particularly the task of prioritizing the remotely ordered food against standard in-person orders.
“For students who are just learning the station, that might be a little difficult,” Dow said. “There will be a lot of training involved … there’s a lot of questions that are going to go along with it.”
Scott said he was particularly hopeful about the successful launch of the service at Sandella’s at IC Square. Sandella’s has a window that was previously used as a pickup window for takeout food. Although the window is now unused, it will be reopened for its original purpose when the service starts next semester.
The platform for the app comes from CBORD, a company that is already responsible for the systems used for transactions in the college’s dining halls.
Seven years ago, Sodexo worked with CBORD to implement a food preordering system at the college called WebFood. Though rare for its time, Scott said WebFood ultimately failed as a result of its inflexibility in regards to payment methods. Due to online security concerns, users could not pay for their food using credit or debit cards.
Scott said the new app will enable users to pay for food through ID Express and Bonus Bucks, in addition to credit and debit cards. It will also include a feature called GetFunds, which will allow students to check their balances and instantly replenish funds to their ID Express and Bonus Bucks accounts.
Scott said Cornell University is working with CBORD to develop a prepaid ordering service similar to that of the Sodexo system.
Among the college’s peer group, schools like Mercer University, Hamline University and Butler University source their meals from CampusDish, which offers a mobile app allowing users to browse menus, calculate nutrition information and check which locations are open, but does not include mobile ordering capabilities. The University of Redlands offers a preorder service, but it is limited to drink orders.
Junior Kaitlyn Folkes said she thinks the preordering option is a good idea.
“I think that’s something contemporary … that most people would want to take advantage of,” Folkes said.
Senior Aidan Strein said he still has doubts about the quality of the food offered and doesn’t plan to use the service as a senior but would consider it if he had a meal plan.
“If I had that freshman year, I think that would be kind of interesting,” Strein said. “It would definitely speed stuff up, especially since the school is much larger now.”
While GET Mobile will be piloted at the three locations, Scott said there are plans to expand its reach over time.
“We’re also very intrigued with … down the road, trying to figure this out for the Food Court, but it’s a very hectic space in there,” Scott said. “We really want to gain some experience in doing these transactions through those other sites first. And once that phase works through, we hope to grow it.”
In the more distant future, Sodexo is considering a delivery option as well. Scott said such an option would likely be limited to the Circle Apartments community.
While greater conveniences like pickup and delivery increase the accessibility of Sodexo food, they also place its meals in competition with off-campus delivery services. Scott said Sodexo conducts a market analysis each semester to keep its pricing in line with off-campus competitors.
Dow said he is interested in the new service.
“Times are always changing. Things are always moving,” he said. “So hopefully, it speeds things up, and people don’t have to wait.”