This story was originally published in the Mar 2 print issue of Fourth Estate.
Staff writer: Jacob Rupe
Door busting lines at the new Panera Bread and Starbucks may be familiar sights, but George Mason University is introducing Tapingo, an app that aims “to create a world with no lines.”
Tapingo uses a mobile platform to allow users to place an order from anywhere. A user opens the app on their phone, chooses a restaurant to pick up from or deliver, selects options in an online menu, selects a payment method which includes campus options like Mason-money, and then is notified when his or her food is ready. Tapingo, founded in 2012, is currently used at 25 universities to reduce lines and increase sales. Tapingo’s home website claims to boost sales at universities by 17% and save 8 days waiting in line per student.
According to Mark Kraner, executive director of Campus Retail Operations, Tapingo will be available at both Starbucks, all three Einstein’s, Chick-fil-A, Taco-bell, Auntie Anne’s, Subway and the Rathskeller. Manhattan Pizza may also add the delivery option.
“We are now shooting for March 1st [and] there will be a marketing push to let the population know about the program,” Kraner said.
As with any new technology there may be unforeseen issues. Chico State’s student media outlet, The Orion, says Tapingo is “getting food out faster for students but backing up services inside the dining area, according to students who don’t use the app.” Sabrina Sing, an NYU student quoted in the NYU student media outlet Washington Square News says she won’t use Tapingo because she appreciates the ability to become familiar with restaurant workers
The effectiveness of Tapingo could have serious impact on what restaurants find their way on campus in the coming years. Long lines can prevent popular concepts from finding their way into the Johnson Center, but fast-casual restaurants have grown in popularity. Forbes magazine wrote the growth of fast-casual is most popular among ages 18-34. Fast-casual restaurants are generally acknowledged to be a level above quick service restaurant chains like McDonald’s, but below casual sit down dining restaurants, according to Lea Davis with QSR Magazine. Examples of fast casual restaurants include Panera, Chipotle, Noodle and Company, Five Guys and Sweet Greens. On campus we have Panera, Manhattan, Panda-Express and Einstein’s.
“Fast Casual is a little bit slower than fast food. You only have fifteen minutes [between classes] — fifteen minutes every hour to serve you,” said Kraner.
The Economist gives the following four reasons for fast-casual success in the market place: the promise of fresh food, a higher ability to customize order, “clever pricing” that increases sales revenue around 40% per transaction, and the distinctive personality of each franchise. Market research firm Mintel, quoted in The Economist, says combined fast-casual sales have outpaced fast food chains at 4.4%.
Mason Dining is looking at fast-casual concepts for campus venues. Kraner said one restaurant being considered is Garbanzo, a Mediterranean concept. Garbanzo’s website menu offers food in the form of wraps, pitas, plates, gyro, kabobs and salads. Their menu is advertised as mostly gluten free.
Though long lines may have an effect, the university calendar also effects which restaurants choose to serve on campus. For example, after December there are two weeks when everything is closed and another two weeks of minimal sales.
“From May 15 to August 15, we do about forty percent of what we do during the year. When they talk to stock holders and they have a company that’s yo-yoing…They don’t like the non-traditional market,” Kraner said.
Kraner said Mason has been talking with Chipotle for five years but they refuse to come on campus because of the university calendar.
“If it’s hot on the street 9 times out of ten they won’t come to a nontraditional market until they saturate the market place out on the street,” Kraner said.
Many brands that do not want to enter the non-traditional market will place themselves at the border of college campus and rely on the street presence to sustain them during the off portions of the university calendar. Panera at Mason is the first of its chain to operate completely on a college campus.
“We are the first one for Panera that’s totally campus based,” Kraner said.