Over the summer, UNC Charlotte launched its Niner Diners Mobile Ordering app to prevent long lines and reduce social contact during the pandemic. However, many value items have disappeared from the app's menus over the past few months.
Erin Hutchison, director of retail of UNC Charlotte Dining services, said that she and her team work closely with the franchise restaurants on campus to provide a menu that satisfies customers and allows for social distancing.
"We did have to look at our kitchen operations to be able to keep our staff socially distanced while executing the menu as quickly as possible," said Hutchison.
"We had heard from numerous other universities that if one of their team members tested positive, it would wipe out the entire operation." said Jody Thompson, interim director of UNC Charlotte Auxiliary and Food Services, "So they had to close locations because everyone would be considered a close contact."
To keep operations efficient and safe, the app's menu was limited to a smaller selection of the restaurants' most popular items.
"We dug as much into it as possible and pulled some detailed reports of what was selling," said Hutchison.
"One of the really big driving factors was making sure that we kept our associates as safe and socially distanced as possible in what is normally a pretty crowded kitchen space," said Thompson. "With Chick-fil-A, we had conversations about removing the milkshakes and removing even some great sellers because of that inability to necessarily social distance."
The team also took away certain options for some items.
"If we have four or five different sizes of nugget boxes, let's scale that back down to two or something like that.' said Hutchison. "And then you look at which ones sell the most, just so there aren't so many offerings available. That helps with the speed of service too."
Hutchison said that many students would order multiple value items within one purchase. This would cause each ticket to take longer and make social distancing more difficult.
"It became bigger orders because they're ordering four or five value items," said Hutchison. "So each ticket took that much longer to get out as well. They were making two sandwiches, getting nuggets and then something else to fulfill one order."
But there is still hope for students craving value items like Wendy's biggie bag. Although they aren't available on the app, students can still order many of the lost items on the two kiosks located in the Market on Craver. Hutchinson said that her team hopes to put more kiosks within the Union soon.
The University will be watching state regulations and will return the app's menu back to normal as soon as it is safe for the restaurant employees.