Located in Nashville, Tennessee, Vanderbilt University covers 300 acres and is nearly 150 years old. The esteemed institution boasts some of the highest honors in the U.S., including landing on The Princeton Review’s top ten list for best campus food in the entire country.
“Food and dining at Vanderbilt is not tangential to the experience; it is critical to campus life,” said Sean Carroll, Senior Director of Marketing and Auxiliary Operations. “The expectation level is extremely high. Vanderbilt competes for undergraduate students with the top schools in the U.S., the Ivy Leagues: Stanford, Duke, etc. So everything about Vanderbilt has to be excellent, including the food.”
Despite these honors, Vanderbilt University’s dining team was struggling with parts of its operations, particularly when it came to menu boards and displays.
Carroll knew his team’s “haphazard” approach to displays was costing them time, money, and a less-than-ideal customer experience.
“It involved manual processes,” Carroll said. “We had printed-out menus that may or may not have been accurate, including not only offerings but allergen and dietary information, as we know that can have some pretty significant impacts on students if [the food] isn’t labeled correctly.”
These drawbacks didn’t jive with Carroll’s goal of providing a fantastic customer experience. “One of the things that’s important to me is being able to communicate offerings to students and do it in a seamless way to not have a burden on our operation staff, but also be able to display menu offerings and allergen traits in a meaningful, easy-to-understand way,” he said.
Something had to change, so Carroll and his team started to look for a solution that would tie together those requirements while giving them the ability to present menu information in a consistent manner.
As Carroll looked into how he could make Vanderbilt’s menu experience more modern and refreshed, he heard about Nutrislice through a colleague at a CBORD user conference.
“Nutrislice not only had a great product, but it integrated with our existing menu management system [CBORD’s NetMenu]. To find a solution that integrated with that, that didn’t involve a lot of manual touchpoints was really important to us when deciding what direction we would go,” he said.
Carroll discovered Nutrislice Showcase, a digital signage solution for college and university foodservice teams, and recognized its value. “The content was just next-level. The example screens we saw from the Nutrislice team really knocked our socks off. It delivered what I expect from any restaurant or quick-service experience, and I knew I wanted that in our dining halls.”
But management wasn’t so sure – that is, until Covid-19 happened.
“Vanderbilt was one of a few campuses in the U.S. that made the decision to bring students back to campus in the fall of 2020, with the caveat that we de-densify our locations,” Carroll explained.
And that’s where digital signage came into play.
Vanderbilt opted for Nutrislice Showcase as a greeter menu board solution at the entrance to each dining hall to help students decide what they wanted to eat at the front-end before making their way through lines. This strategy helped Vanderbilt get students through dining halls more quickly, as the university didn’t allow indoor dining just yet.
As Vanderbilt learned how to operate within Covid-19 parameters, Carroll said the university expanded its dining programs and Nutrislice’s partnership along with that. His team installed smaller screens at each station in every dining hall to explain what was being served along with all the dietary and nutrition traits, essentially tripling the Showcase footprint on campus.
“Once we figured out how everything worked together [integration-wise], we were given the tools to build our own menu screens and presentations. It’s really become intuitive,” Carroll explained. “Like any new process, it was a challenge but the Nutrislice team was very supportive and the training we got was really second-to-none. They were very committed to making sure that we knew how to operate the system and how to really run ourselves.”
Fast forward to the summer of 2021, and Carroll said the athletics department decided to transition all concessions from an outsourced vendor to the in-house campus dining team. The department also wanted to renovate the concession stands and concourse at Vanderbilt’s football stadium.
“When the question came, ‘what are you going to do for the football stadium?’, the choice was clear,” Carroll said. “We had our solution.”
Carroll’s team installed Nutrislice’s digital signage for its menu displays just in time for the first home game of 2021, and the results were illuminating.
“After the first game, which was a night game, athletics came to us with a debrief and were just marveling at how our dark concourses were lit up with marketing content and our beautiful screens,” Carroll said. “It was a showstopper – it was really gratifying.”
Carroll also said implementing Nutrislice Showcase resulted in better-informed students across campus.
“We don’t get as many questions about what’s in this food, or what allergens are in a given cuisine. We’ve taken the guesswork out of dining, and that’s been a big win for our students.” Operationally, Sean and his team are now able to see an issue on a digital screen and immediately make a change from anywhere using their phones or laptops. Vanderbilt’s dining team members no longer need to worry about inaccurate print menus, and they’ve eliminated many of the manual processes they were struggling to keep up with. With Nutrislice Showcase, the university now delivers a student and customer dining experience on par with that of modern restaurants.
“Nutrislice has been a really good partner,” Carroll explained. “Every time we come to them with a potential need, we get creative solutions and I can tell they’re really committed to making sure that our experience for students is what Nutrislice expects.”
“Nutrislice is the gold standard for digital menu displays,” Carroll added.