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Why Doesn’t Penn State Eats Offer More Options?

Introduced last fall, the Penn State Eats app was arguably the best thing that happened to Penn State since the addition of mozzarella sticks. The app lets students order ahead of time so that they can skip the lines, and it’s usually ready on arrival.

Last year, I relied heavily on the service. I would order coffee or lunch hours ahead of time to give myself a reason to get out of bed and interact with the world in the absence of in-person classes.

This year, though, I came back knowing that mobile ordering would still be waiting for me, and I crossed my fingers hoping that some of my favorite restaurants would be added. Can you imagine a world where Panda Express was available on the Penn State Eats app?

To my dismay, I found that my go-to restaurant, Redifer City Grill, had been removed from the platform. I also noted that a few others had been added, including the Penn State Bakery. I could order a 10-inch cake but not a cheeseburger? Go figure.

You probably won’t be surprised to hear that some locations just aren’t cut out for mobile ordering. Kevin Johnston, senior assistant director of residential dining at Penn State, says he works with “a committee comprised of managers and staff from Auxiliary and Business Services to determine the best path forward for the Penn State Eats program.”

Because of this, there are some locations that may never offer mobile ordering. Places like Panda Express and Slim Chickens, for example, are already incredibly busy with strictly in-person ordering. The addition of mobile ordering isn’t compatible with the number of employees or the size of the kitchens.

In deciding what locations are added or removed from one semester to the next, Johnston says that increased campus occupancy this year was a huge factor. Penn State Eats was introduced last fall and had never operated under a full campus. Penn State Dining needed to make “strategic decisions” to make sure Penn State Eats could still succeed.

A change that was seen in the South Food District is an example of one of these ~strategic decisions~. At Piatto Felice, whole pizzas are up for grabs via mobile ordering at any time during the day. Individual slices can only be ordered through Penn State Eats between noon and 2 p.m. when Piatto Felice would already be serving a higher amount of pizza slices for lunch.

It’s also common for the Penn State Eats app to offer a limited menu compared to that restaurant’s in-person ordering menu. While this may seem like an annoyance, there’s logic behind it.

Simply put, mobile ordering is much more popular than in-person ordering at University Park. For a busy dining location, choosing mobile menu items that have a shorter production time gives workers the ability to move through orders much quicker.

However, don’t get too upset, yet.

“As staffing levels increase, we hope to expand these online menus,” Johnston said.

Ultimately, Penn State Dining is routinely reviewing which locations are available on the Penn State Eats platform, how they are performing, and how they can make the dining experience better. According to Johnston, the department wants to always have a mixture of restaurants that exclusively offer in-person or mobile ordering, as well as a combination of the two.

The best news of all is that Penn State Eats is here to stay. Penn State Dining “[plans to have] mobile ordering available in the future even after [COVID-19] restrictions are lifted on campus,” Johnston said.

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About the Author

Haylee Yocum

Haylee is a sophomore in the Schreyer Honors College studying immunology and infectious disease. She is from Mifflintown, PA, a tiny town south of State College. She is a coffee addict, loves Taylor Swift, and can't wait to go to a concert again. Any questions can be directed to @hayleeq8 on Twitter or emailed to [email protected]

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