Improving Campus Dining Options Focus of New Collaborative Eating App

Computer & data science and digital communications students collaborated to design and program a dining hall app.

Wondering what’s available for meals in the Lehr and Phillips dining hall on campus? Now you can find it with a swipe of your phone screen via the new Metz Culinary app available on the Apple or Google Play Store.

The Metz app includes data collection to show what students are eating and their opinions of those dishes, a login screen where students can view their meal swipes and flex dollars balance, and the Metz Twitter feed.

The idea for the app originated as part of the undergraduate student research group E.A.T. (Engage, Analyze, Transform), that collaborates with Metz to improve the campus dining experience through data-driven research.

Miles Weber ’18, a recent music graduate and one of the E.A.T. researchers during the 2017–18 academic year, wanted to place additional health, ethics, and environmentally-conscious decisions about the food space into the average student's hands. “The trick is that you have to make those tools easy-to-use, understandable, and accessible, above all else,” he said. Then,“T the idea of an app became quite apparent, as most everyone on campus owns a smartphone and uses it often.”

Weber researched dining apps at other colleges to identify crucial features that would work for LVC students.

From there, the project moved into the design phase during the spring 2018 semester when a group of computer & data science majors designed the database and built the first version of the web service back end as an independent research project.

Finally, a grant from the Edward H. Arnold and Jeanne Donlevy Arnold Program for Experiential Education funded the front-end design and back-end development that occurred during the summer. Nick Gibbons ’19 and Nate Darrah ’19, computer & data science majors, managed the development while digital communications major Tyler Okomba ’20 designed the interface that users see.

Most of the programming Gibbons and Darrah have done in their coursework used Java, C++, or Python, but this project called for entirely new languages, tools, and technologies. “Rather than specific tools, our classes teach us how to use languages so that we can pick up new things easily since this field and its technologies are constantly changing,” said Gibbons.

Different from a typical class assignment,Programming the app moved the pair beyond typical class assignments and provided  the pair gained valuable work experience as they start to think about life after graduation. “We learned how to work with multiple groups of people. In class, we have projects with set parameters. For this project, we had a client, and it was learning to figure out what the customer needed,” said Darrah.

After the initial launch, Metz hired Gibbons to continue fine-tuning the app and start planning for additional features. The next version of the app will include the ingredients and nutrition facts for each dish as well as a filter for dietary concerns such as kosher, vegetarian, and food allergies.