Self-swipe comes to dining halls

SaraMiller_Swipe
Photo by Sara Miller .

Yale Dining is putting swiping power in students’ hands.

Under the new system, students are encouraged to swipe their IDs through the card reader themselves, rather than handing their IDs to the desk attendants, as was the procedure previously. Director of Residential Dining Cathy Van Dyke SOM ’86 said the self-swiping system evolved from a side-swipe system that was implemented due to a combination of safety, sanitation and pragmatic concerns. Although individual dining halls have incorporated the new technology to different degrees, Van Dyke said the ultimate goal is to have the self-swipe support, rather than replace, the current role of desk attendants.

Repeatedly swiping IDs can cause physical stress and potentially lead to such side effects as carpal tunnel syndrome, Van Dyke said, adding that Yale Dining has worked with Yale Environmental Health and Safety (EHS) to create the new system.

“[Swiping] once is not a big deal,” she said. “But do it for 800 people at breakfast and 1000 at lunch … now you have someone reaching up and swiping down [hundreds of] times.”

Van Dyke said her team and EHS relied upon ergonomics — the science of designing equipment for optimal productivity and comfort — to conclude that the current practice could be improved by introducing a side-swipe system, which later became the self-swipe system. The first small terminal was placed in Commons this fall due to an attendant’s history of back problems, and the self-swipe system emerged from this new technology following a trial in Pierson College, she said.

Van Dyke noted, however, that the new terminals do not have to be used exclusively for self-swiping, rather the original intent was simply to encourage a side-swiping motion rather than the previous up-down motion.

The constant up-down motion is similar to factory work and can hurt one’s wrist, student dining hall manager Dennis Tran ’16 said. While self-swiping can be a marginal inconvenience for students, avoiding the risk of injury for the worker is more important, he said.

In some dining halls, written directions accompany the card readers to facilitate the new system. However, attendants will remain behind the desk to ensure the process runs smoothly and to handle Eli Bucks and alternate modes of payment, which cannot be run through the system, Van Dyke said.

“It is an aid to the desk attendant, absolutely not a replacement,” she said.

Though most students interviewed were positive about the new system, some expressed various concerns.

Sarika Pandrangi ’17 said she worried that the change could eventually render dining hall workers’ jobs obsolete, not unlike tollbooth operators or ATM tellers. She added that she feels that the dining hall workers in her residential college get annoyed when students swipe themselves, even if it is a more efficient alternative. Student dining hall manager Joyce Shi ’15 said a potential problem with the new system is that students may avoid self-swiping as they enter the dining hall, particularly during lunch time when they can then use their swipe at Durfee’s. Still, she added that the self-swipe system in Davenport College has worked well for breakfast where there is little incentive to avoid swiping.

Van Dyke said data from Pierson College has shown that, rather than swiping less frequently, students have swiped more frequently under the new system.

In addition, the new system makes it unnecessary for students to leave their IDs on the counter during breakfast hours when the attendant is away from the desk, Van Dyke said. Rather than leaving their IDs or simply not swiping, students can now use the card reader themselves, she said.

A final benefit Van Dyke noted was the prevention of germ transmission. Since one attendant often handles hundreds of IDs in a meal, allowing students to swipe their own card is more sanitary for food service, she said.

Still, one dining hall manager, who spoke on the condition on anonymity because he is prevented from speaking to the press under his contract, said the new system is inefficient because the desk attendants still need to be paid.

The manager added that the system is also flawed because, if someone swipes too quickly or too slowly, the card reader does not register the ID.

Ryan Chan ’15 said that while it took him some time to get used to the new procedure, he thinks that students will eventually become more comfortable with practice.

Van Dyke said that the new procedure is still in the pilot stage, and Yale Dining will continue to consider ways in which self-swipe can be improved.

With over 23 residential and retail dining operations on campus, Yale Dining is responsible for serving over 14,000 meals per day.

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