Automated lunch check-in helps lines move faster

March 26, 2019 — by Rohan Kumar and Oliver Ye

New computer program and barcode scanners allow students to quickly log their cash-free purchases.

Every day during tutorial and lunch, dozens of students file into the cafeteria, grab their entrees and snacks, scan their ID cards and walk out within minutes.

Barcode scanners, along with new software for cafeteria computers, now help expedite the lunch-buying process, requiring only a couple taps by cafeteria staff members to complete a purchase. The technology also provides a detailed digital log of a student’s balance, although it does not currently include which items students purchase.

Before this technology was implemented three years ago, students could only pay for food at the cafeteria and food cart using cash. Now, students or their parents can deposit money on school ID cards, scan the card at the lunch line and have the payment deducted from their online balance. While the lines still remain long, they now move much faster than during the cash-only days.

Junior Alex Pan was a freshman when the changes were implemented. He now helps with handling transactions in the cafeteria and noticed that cash transactions were painfully slow compared to the new automated check-in.

“Instead of having to get the cash and give the change back, I can just say, ‘You’re good,’ and input the money while they are moving and the next person is getting their card out,” Pan said.

According to food service manager Pam Carlino, the lunch staff simply input the cost of the student’s items using an interface with buttons for various dollar amounts. The software also allows students, parents and lunch staff to access an online log that shows the amount of money on an ID card.

These changes were approved by the school board, which provided funding for the new scanners and computers. This technology is now in use in three locations: the four lunch lines, the snack line and the food cart.

Many nearby schools also use automated payment systems as well, including Redwood Middle School and the elementary schools, adding to the ease of using the system here.

In the near future, potentially next year, Carlino said that a new software that records item purchases may also be introduced. This way, parents would be able to view the specific items that are being purchased, not just dollar amounts. Knowing how the money is spent allows for more accountability in student purchases.

“The way it works is it doesn’t show what you’ve purchased so your parents can’t go on and see whether you guys buy cookies or if you’re buying fruit,” Carlino said.

With parents being able to view what items are being purchased, students may make healthier choices.

The integration of technology into the cafeteria system has helped in the eyes of staff members and students. Although problems still remain with the system, the school is constantly improving upon it.

“The lines are horrible; everyone still complains about them,” Carlino said. “But I do think it goes faster now and it may change again next school year.”

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