Sodexo Food Services Reduces Costs and Raises Service Quality

Sodexo cafeteria & restaurants

Sodexo is the world’s second largest food services company, with annual worldwide revenues of $26B, including $12B in North America. Sodexo operates food services operations throughout the world in industries including transportation, education, defense, health care, sports, and general business. Sodexo holds a major share of the food services operations at universities across the United States.

Sodexo manages all foodservice operations at East Tennessee University (ETSU) for more than 15,000 students, faculty, and staff. With well over 800 dining seats across many facilities around campus, this is no simple task even in normal times, nevermind during the Covid pandemic. With new social distancing requirements in place, the maximum allowable dining room capacity has dropped down to only 185 seats. The million dollar question: How can Sodexo facilitate a dining experience that makes their customers feel safe, while simultaneously providing them increased flexibility based on their busy schedules?

Before discovering BlueFox, Sodexo’s ETSU team considered deploying team members to stand at the entrance of each of their locations with a clicker to count the number of students who entered and exited. There were two major concerns with this proposed solution. First, the ongoing cost was very high, given that additional employees would need to be hired and paid hourly to complete this singular task. Second, accuracy was a concern, lending itself to human error, especially with the increased complexity of tracking multiple entrances and exits which would then need to aggregate information in real time to calculate the total number of occupants.

Kelvin Tarukwasha, the university’s dedicated General Manager for Sodexo, was on a mission to find a better option. Upon learning about how BlueFox could provide this same info in a completely automated fashion with down to the second precision:

“We knew right from the time we saw the BlueFox presentation that this was what we needed at ETSU.”

Once the decision to deploy BlueFox was made, next came installation. The BlueFox system uses a network of sensors to count mobile phones as a proxy for counting the number of occupants within a given space. Beyond these raw foot traffic numbers, BlueFox also provides more advanced analytics including dwell times (how long people stay) and visit frequency (how often people come back). Kelvin installed ETSU’s three sensors in less than two hours, and didn’t require any specialized technical knowledge or onsite IT support:

“I actually don’t remember much about the installation process because it was so easy. We have been able to count and compare to the real time reports and in most cases it’s more than 98% accurate.”

As part of the college’s unified Covid mitigation plan, foodservice operations are considered to be particularly high risk areas. This is due to the fact that dining facilities are one of the few indoor spots around campus where students are permitted to take off their masks in order to eat and drink. Therefore, the school’s leadership (not to mention the larger community of concerned parents) were adamant about making sure there were strict regulations to enforce occupancy restrictions. With BlueFox in place, the data was already available for live consumption. 

Sodexo’s final step was to deliver occupancy rates  to students prior to their choosing a dining facility ,  to redirect diners and avoid risk of overcrowding. To do this, Sodexo took advantage of BlueFox’s APIs to pull live information into the Sodexo MyWay mobile app and website. In this way, students can check the status of dining locations around campus to learn how busy each is, including possible wait times and dining room seat availability:

“Students are able to check from our website if the capacity exceeds their personal comfort level before they come to the dining. As operators we also use this to help allocate resources. We know in real time when we are busy, and which area of, or large dining is busy, and we are able to send additional support.”

Beyond the obvious use case related to promoting safe operation of its facilities, Sodexo also saw additional benefits through the use of historical data to optimize team member scheduling and reduce food waste by anticipating visitation by hour and day of week.  Sodexo’s internal research estimates a dramatic  2% reduction in operating costs based on these boosted efficiencies:

“We budgeted to lose money like most businesses because of reduced revenues and the increased costs of operating under Covid guidelines. We are breaking even and better. We have been able to allocate labor resources in real time, and we have also been able to batch cook based on real traffic patterns.”

Given the quick success Sodexo has seen at ETSU using BlueFox, they’re now planning to deploy across their full portfolio of 14 locations around campus, as well as to strongly encourage the school’s leadership to consider additional applications in places where large numbers of people gather, like the football stadium, basketball arena, auditoriums, meeting spaces, libraries, and bookstores.

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