express news service
For the past several years, on the 30th of every month, Rajesh Kulkarni, a student of PES University, Bengaluru, used to religiously visit the cafeteria at 6.30 am. This means he has to get up earlier than usual, stand in queue for a few hours and, of course, miss classes. Tried all this so that he can pre-book his favorite ‘Food Court Meal Package’ for the whole month. If he missed this ritual, he had to take a regular non-vegetarian thali, or worse yet a platter of vegetarian food.
This was the case until January 2022, when the campus cafeteria became ‘smart’. Now, Kulkarni just has to open the SpaceBasic app from his bed on the 30th of the month at 6.01 am and book his meal package for the entire month on the app.
At 6.02 am, he closes the app, locks his phone and goes back to sleep. Smart cafeteria, indeed.
Over the past two years, COVID and social distancing norms have forced campuses and office cafeterias across India to install technology platforms such as SpaceBasic and Istara Smart Food Courts to simplify their everyday processes.
“Not only simple and efficient, but also money and time saving,” says Madhavi Shankar, CEO and co-founder, Bengaluru-based Edu-Tech company that operates AI-powered cafeteria management systems. They operate 47 campuses across India with a minimum of 250 students and a maximum of 6,000. It works out to Rs 399 per year per student for the campus to use the platform.
The platform integrates WhatsApp, SMS, Calls, ERP, Face Scan, Biometrics, Flap Barriers (gates that enable one to enter a campus) and applies AI analysis to help the kitchen understand how students What are you eating, what is being wasted, what is the time of day it is most consumed and other such data. Shankar says universities typically save up to 20 percent every month by using the platform.
The simple addition of an RSVP feature where students confirm a few hours before the meal whether or not they can make it, followed by scanning a QR code on the table gives managers instant information. Hostel management can also view student foot traffic in real time, keep track of student meal bookings and cafeteria check-ins. “We can get rid of an old useless tava after poor ratings from students and reaction of undercooked chapatis on the platform. The kitchen staff found that it would take 45 seconds to cook a roti on this poor griddle instead of the regular 30 seconds, leaving the roti undercooked,” says Shankar.
Another player in this segment is Istara Smart Food Courts, which manages over 50 food courts across Telangana, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, catering to over 1,50,000 users. Krishna Kumar, CEO and co-founder of Istara Parks Pvt Ltd, which runs smart food courts, says, “At the IIT Hyderabad campus, we enable food from the vendor they want (for example, McDonald’s, Pizza Hut etc.) to distribute. in their dorm room when they want. In most other food apps, ordering food from one vendor to another requires a check out. Here, technology enables multi-vendor ordering.
Also, the quality of the food (temperature, freshness, cleanliness etc.) is pre-checked by the platform before it is delivered. That way there is no compromise on quality,” he explains. The platform enables contactless dining, wallet payment options, mobile payments, etc. They can save the students from the crowd by giving them time slots and pre-ordering of food at the pick-up counter.
Kumar says the platform may have more features to optimize the credits/coupons offered by the office/college. “I can foresee a situation where an employee is on a weight loss diet and doesn’t order as much food as before. The platform converts food credits/coupons into salon coupons. The potential is limitless,” he says .