Kiosks, Smart Printers Speed Up University Cafeteria Lines

Chartwells Higher Education Dining Services is a contract foodservice management company, managing dining environments at more than 270 colleges and universities nationwide. The  brand is built around Generation Z, which has replaced Millennials on college campuses, by catering to their affinity for technology. The University of Utah took advantage of this reputation when it partnered with Chartwells to roll out cutting-edge technology within its cafeteria.
At the University of Utah, classes let out at about the same time. So the cafeteria experiences waves of students all at once. Approximately 1,500-1,700 students eat at the cafeteria every day, with the busiest time between 11:45 a.m. – 1:00 p.m. Within five to ten minutes, long lines form in the cafeteria. With multiple stations serving various food items, the lines create a bottleneck in the order-taking process. It was becoming very difficult to get orders into the kitchen fast enough to serve everyone expediently, especially since there is a limited time frame when everyone can be served.
Last summer, the cafeteria was updating the look and feel of its food court, so we thought it would also be a good time for technology upgrades. We decided to modernize the grill station (where we served burgers, fries, and chicken sandwiches, etc.), since those foods are easy to modify and seemed ideally suited for a self-service application.   
We decided to set up kiosks where students could place orders easily and efficiently and devote the entire grill team to food production. To do this, we worked with Cirra Systems, a company that designs a point-of-sale restaurant management system known as Tavlo. They installed technology that dramatically expedited the ordering process. They installed three kiosks where students could place a high volume of orders in record time. Before the kiosks, only one person at a time ordered, slowing everything down. Within the first couple of weeks after installing the kiosks, about one and a half orders were queued per minute, and the grill station was doing 45 orders an hour – an impressive turn-around for a team of two. If a student knows the interface, he or she can enter their order in a matter of seconds. Needless to say, Generation Z caught onto using this technology very quickly.
The kiosk ordering system was very well received by the students, since that’s how they shop and dine these days. It totally relieved the bottleneck. Now, during the lunch rush you’ll see a gathering of people waiting for their order to be called. But the nice thing is there’s no line, so other students are not deterred from coming in and ordering. After ordering, they now have time to go pick up their napkins and condiments while they wait. The system is working out great!
Since Cirra Systems' Tavlo software is 100% cloud-based, it handle orders remotely on its own server. Instead of sending a print job to an in-house server or directly to the printer, it goes through Cirra Systems' cloud, allowing one kiosk to serve orders to multiple smart kitchen printers (Epson’s OmniLink DT printers). In addition, if the cafeteria decides to add more food stations to the kiosk, Cirra Systems can do that remotely. A student can then order from multiple food stations at the same kiosk, and the software can send each order directly to the right kitchen printer/station.
For the system to work, Cirra Systems uses Epson OmniLink printers. One kiosk can send multiple orders to "slave printers" which gives the cafeteria a lot of flexibility. The Epson print server connects to the Internet, which means it can receive print jobs directly from Cirra System servers. Sending the order directly from the kiosk to the printer significantly cuts down on errors. The order sent is exactly what the student wants; there’s no room for miscommunication between students and order takers.
Fortunately, the entire system was installed quickly.
We didn’t have any downtime during the installation. It only took one day for Cirra Systems to install the kiosks. We are looking into other applications for the future, and I’d like to see the self-serve concept rolled out in as many locations as we can.
A major advantage of the Tavlo Cloud is that the on-premise equipment is light and inexpensive, made up of just three tablets and the Epson smart printer. Since configuration and maintenance is handled by Cirra Systems, installation and ongoing support is a breeze. One of the biggest technology complaints in food service is that systems are difficult to maintain, they frequently go down, and getting service back up and running takes too much time. With Cirra Systems, we are not responsible for maintaining the system. Instead, Cirra Systems handles it.
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