While college campuses have largely recovered from the COVID shutdowns, the foodservice auxiliary at SUNY Delhi, New York found itself challenged to meet the "off hours" food demand that often typifies student lifestyles.
The main cafeterias were in full swing by the time classes resumed to normal following the shutdown, but as the 2022 school year approached, the foodservice auxiliary did not have the staff to reopen the campus convenience store that had offered food to go until 2:30 a.m. pre-COVID.
The auxiliary head count was 75 by the summer of 2022, 25 employees short of its pre-COVID number. Chris Harper, facilities director for auxiliary services at SUNY Delhi, needed a solution.
"There was a huge demand from the students that there was nothing to eat on campus past midnight," Harper told Vending Times in a phone interview. "Our main venues were closing too early."
The only option for students in the wee hours of the night were snack and beverage machines in the dorms, and those were often empty.
Vending to the rescue
State-of-the-art vending proved an effective and cost-efficient solution.
"We took the initiative and attended the NAMA show and saw what they had as far as vending machines and what the options were in the industry," Harper said.
By August of 2022, the auxiliary installed vending machines at two campus locations that offer hot food, coffee, ice cream, fresh food, snacks and soda.
The unattended solution might seem obvious in retrospect, but prior to COVID, campus vending was limited to soda and snack machines in the dormitories, athletic buildings and some academic buildings. Hence, Harper was not cognizant at the time of the most up to date vending capabilities prior to attending the national vending show in Chicago.
Hot food presented the biggest challenge to having an unattended solution on campus, but when Harper saw the Just Baked Bistro machine from Automated Retail Technologies LLC on the trade show floor, his spirits lifted.
The Just Baked Smart Bistro heats and serves food from a slackened state in 45 to 60 seconds. The food, delivered daily to the campus by Vistar, includes breakfast, lunch, dinner and dessert items retailing between $3 and $8.
The Costa Smart Café coffee machine also grabbed Harper's attention at the trade show. Owned by the Coca-Cola Co., the Costa Smart Café machine offers more than 200 drink combinations and features a data connection with automated stock reordering, preventive maintenance and sales reporting.
An efficient, effective solution
Vending has proven a highly efficient and effective solution.
Harper has been able to service all the vending machines with four employees from his 75-person staff, including two commissary people during the day and two maintenance people at night.
"We have staff that just shows up to restock the machines, and the Costa machine needs to be cleaned every 24 hours," he said.
The larger of the two unattended food banks is located between the campus's two main cafeterias and has two Just Baked machines, one Costa machine, a refrigerated food machine, an ice cream machine and three cold beverage machines.
The second unattended location is at the campus tech center and has one Just Baked machine, one Costa machine, a beverage machine and a snack machine.
The auxiliary has also added some cold beverage vending machines to one of its full-service cafeterias.
"We added three machines to our location there that carry all of the flavors of the beverages that we have so that students wouldn't have to wait in a line behind 20 kids who wanted a hamburger when all they wanted was a drink," Harper said.
Students can use their campus ID cards to purchase from the machines, which also take credit cards but not cash. Harper thinks about 60% to 70% of purchases that can be made with a campus ID card are being made this way.
By: Elliot Maras