Besides studying, a favorite activity of college students is eating and our students are no exception. The Housing department approached us a few months ago because they were opening a new dining facility on campus and wanted to promote it.
Gold ‘n’ Greens
The new facility, which was scheduled to open on the first day of Fall semester 2012, had a menu that catered to vegetarian, vegan, kosher and gluten-free diets. The only problem was it didn’t have a name yet. So, as we often do, we looked to our students. We put a poll on Facebook with a few suggestions but left it open for write-in entries. By far, “Gold ‘n’ Greens was the clear winner.
Now that it had a name we had to get the word out about the new facility. After some informal interviews with students it became clear that there was a misconception about campus dining.
- Perception was that campus dining facilities were only open to students in the resident halls.
- Didn’t know it was a flat fee all-you-can-eat.
- Didn’t know there were different breakfast, lunch, and dinner menus.
- Didn’t know non-residents could purchase a meal plan
- Didn’t know what was on the menu, so they opted for more familiar eateries.
Didn’t know what was on the menu
The last misconception was by far the most noted, students said they would rather go to McDonald’s, where they knew what there were going to be able to eat than to take a chance on a dining facility. We dug deeper into this and found it was true, the dining facility menus were only listed in two spots. On a static digital sign inside one of the resident halls and as a PDF on the food vendor’s website.
We set out to change this and give this crucial information to anyone who wanted it. We started with creating a database of food items, dates and specials. We worked with Housing and our food vendor to populate the database with as much information as possible: attributes about each dish, nutritional info, food restrictions and a photo if available.
Because we wanted this information as open as possible we exposed it via our API. Now anyone who wants access to the information can integrate it into their site/app/email/etc. Since we are a huge fan of eating our own dog food, we use that same API to populate student areas around campus.
On the Housing website
Of course we had to get the information out of PDF format and allow students to see the menu from day-to-day, and not just a “schedule” of what is available. The above screenshot is from the Housing & Residential Life website. It allows a student to pick their facility and see the entire menu for the day.
On campus digital signage
Students may not be at a desk, but instead walking through campus between classes or sitting in a study area. We utilized the digital signage around campus to promote the facilities and their menus. The screenshot above gives a clear overview of what is available at one of the dining facilities right now.
On our mobile website/app
Lastly, students who may not be near a sign or computer can now log on to m.wayne.edu or our mobile app and get a concise list of the dining facilities and their menus. This option at the moment is the least fancy but gets right to the point and displays the menu items to the student as quickly as possible. It will also be the first to be expanded with supplemental information in the near future.
Because we are committed to making any information available that could potentially help students and the university as a whole, our data is your data. If you’re interested in getting API access, currently available by request only, to use this information on your website/app, just let us know.