Have you ever wished to skip all the lines at an amusement park or event? While it may not be as exciting, University of Maine dining services can offer you the same experience.
This semester, dining services teamed up with Tapingo, a company that provides to-go ordering from your smartphone, tablet or their website to three eateries in the Union Marketplace. While on or off campus, students can order from the pizza venue, the sandwich line or the grill and can either pay by credit card or by MaineCard.
“From the consumer’s perspective, the way we built our product was to save the customer time,” said Mickey Katz, director of marketing for Tapingo. “Let’s say the line at the Union Marketplace happens to be 20 people deep. You just got out of class and you have a very small window of time — or maybe you’re a faculty member and you just finished a meeting but you have to prepare for a class. Time’s a precious commodity. Our product allows people to plan ahead accordingly to really get rid of that wait time.”
Downloading the application is free and registration can be done two ways: either by signing up with your Facebook account or by entering your name, email and a password at the Tapingo website.
“The way we set up the ordering process should be so simple that it should replace having to talk to somebody,” Katz said.
The call-in ordering wasn’t exactly something that was requested, according to UMaine director of dining operations Kathy Kittridge, but it was an amenity that dining services had been wanting to provide.
“We dabbled a little last semester. We did just online ordering through our technology department,” Kittridge said. “We’ve wanted to get into it any way as a convenience to our customers. Everyone’s in a hurry, no one has time to get lunch here. Students have busy schedules; faculty have short lunch breaks.”
Ordering through Tapingo is an option Monday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., the busiest time for the Union, according to Kittridge.
“It’s really just adding an option for people who don’t come here because it’s so crowded,” Kittridge said. “Groups of people might want to order and one person can come pick it up. I think it will help with the crowd and open up opportunities for people who want to eat on campus but don’t because of time constraints.”
Although other universities using Tapingo take advantage of its delivery aspect, Kittridge doesn’t see that being an option at UMaine, due to the lack of manpower and the inclement weather during most of the school year.
Bears’ Den expands
The added option of to-go ordering is just one of the many changes that dining services implemented this school year, and while Tapingo is the most innovative, the most notable change is the combination of Starbucks and the Bears’ Den.
A popular spot for students and faculty alike, the Bears’ Den expanded its hours to open at 7 a.m. and now serves as the caffeine hounds’ early morning stop.
“When we started thinking about what to do for the Bears’ Den in the new season, we thought it was a perfect match to take Starbucks and combine it [the Den],” said Union Marketplace Dining Service Manager Al McAvoy.
Throughout the years, the Bears’ Den has been through a series of remodeling, and has finally settled on the cozy café setting.
“It needed to be more intimate, more private. It evolved into the coffee shop,” McAvoy said. “I talked to the Class of 1944 because that started as their place. It started to take on a life of its own. Any time we were in there redecorating, people would say this is what we needed. We kept the beer and wine and came up with a menu that didn’t need a big kitchen. It’s a place of comfort, of relaxation. Business has increased by 250 percent since the change.”
The Bears’ Den will also be introducing two new items in the coming weeks.
“We’re going to feature a cheese board with crackers,” McAvoy said. “You can buy a cheese board for yourself or for a group of people. All the cheeses featured are locally made in Maine, which is a nice touch. We’re also going to be featuring a potpie with a variety of fillings.”
The Bears’ Den will continue to feature live entertainment and according to McAvoy should increase as the year moves along.
“[Assistant Dining Services Manager Jodi Munster] and I work with student affairs and we’re determined this year and we have things lined up,” McAvoy said. “The entertainment in there will be a lot more than we had in the past.”
New options in the Union
Changes like these aren’t unique to this year. According to McAvoy, Dining Services works each year to produce new ideas for students and faculty.
“We try to take a look at years before and sometimes there’s just a different spin on things and other times, if we think it warrants it, we try to get more technical and more creative and change the way we look at things,” McAvoy said. “Around the spring, we start formulating a plan for the following September. We see what’s feasible and what we can do financially. We try to do it to make it interesting, so students aren’t walking into the same dining environment from the year before.”
Other changes in the Union include a new entree option that features various hot sandwiches. By combining the products offered at homestyle food section, they consolidated them into the grill area, opening up a spot for another item.
“The most popular venue we have is the sandwich venue. So I thought let’s do more sandwiches but let’s do all hot sandwiches,” McAvoy said. “I did some research and now sandwiches have the tendency of being crazy. So we put some crazy stuff up there and bought some really great bread.”
In addition to the hot sandwiches, the Asian-food section of the Union now offers noodle bowls, where consumers can customize hot noodle bowls with various protein and produce.
The other noticeable change is the introduction of a frozen yogurt stand in Union Central, which McAvoy believes will be busy throughout the year, despite the cold days and colder nights.
“We named it ‘Going Bananas’ after our school’s mascot. We have a grand opening on Tuesday and we’ll be handing out free samples hopefully all over campus,” McAvoy said. “We offer free samples to anyone that comes in and wants to try. We have a lot of toppings for it. I think it will be very popular. It’s kind of a treat, but it’s much healthier than ice cream. You feel good [eating it].”
Lastly, Dining Services has started to cook a lot more items in house and buy locally made food. In addition to buying local cheeses, the sub rolls for the turkey subs are locally made and delivered every day, and most of the other bread is cooked in Wells Marketplace.
“Rather than just buying bread that fell apart or wasn’t good for you, we thought the more bread we can make here, the more things made on campus we can feature the better.”