screenshot from iTunes

April 13, 2016

Simply App-etizing: Cornell’s Eatery app

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As a busy commuter between my off-campus residence and various locations on campus (I live on West  campus, work on North campus, take classes on Central campus and occasionally go to the engineering quad), I have always been challenged with a pressing question: Where and when shall I eat? Many of you may have also faced similar dilemmas: Where is the best place to get together with friends on West campus? To grab a quick bite between classes? Is that grill station still open, and what options is it offering today? If you’re using an iPhone, there’s an app for that.

As a freshman, before I discovered such a life-saving app, I would eat at the same eatery every day. That eatery was North Star. After life became more hectic, my stomach turned into a trash bin and for a while I stopped noticing what I ate. Ironically, I’ve heard from more than one friend that they felt the same way and that they weren’t taking advantage of all the dining options on campus.

It also took a lot of pain to discover what the perfect time to go to the dining halls is. You don’t want to walk into an eatery to find that your favorite soup is already all gone. You want to stroll into your favorite seat by the windows, taking your time — rather than scrambling to the first table that opens up, littered with napkins that may or may not have touched other people’s food. And you definitely don’t want to wait in  15-minute lines before getting to the door and seeing Happy Dave’s face. To put it simply, eating on campus is an art, and most often, we don’t have time for it.

Luckily, the app, Eatery, has arrived. Developed by CUAppDev, an iOS project team at Cornell University, the app helps users to browse which eateries are open on campus, along with the hours and menu of the eatery. It also enables the user to share menus with social networking contacts.

The logo of the app resembles a Pac-Man from the classic arcade game, who seems to have eaten a lot of pac-dots — or, you could say it looks like a mac-and-cheese pizza.

Upon opening the app, the user is presented with a scroll-down list of all the eateries on campus. By default, the eateries are sorted into the categories of  “open” and “closed,” with the ones that are currently open on top. By tapping on the “sort” button, or doing a “force touch,” if your iPhone supports it, the eateries rearrange themselves by location (West campus, Central campus, etc).

Tapping on the name of an eatery pulls up detailed information about it, including its hours and menu. A picture of the eatery also appears, with an icon just below it to idnicate the kinds of payments it accepts (BRBs, credit, etc.), which is pretty handy for visitors and students on various kinds of meal plans. The user also has the option of adding the eatery to “favorites,” so that it which would then appear on top of all other eateries in the main list.

What I particularly like about this app is the sharing option. I always want to share menus with my friends when deciding which eatery to eat at, so this feature will definitely be useful. With this app, I no longer have to remember the names of dishes, or copy and paste their names into my web browser, to discuss eatery options with friends.

The “Eatery Guide” option is by far my favorite feature of the app. In the guide, a list of “all-you-care-to-eat” dining rooms and their opening hours are shown without the clutter of images. With a few taps, you can quickly select upcoming dining periods (breakfast, lunch and dinner) and a date as far as six days into the future. This helps to plan where and when to eat days in advance. I then saved the menus to the “notes” app on my phone and I can pull them out any time.

A comparable service is the recently-launched web application, Cornell Dining Now, by Cornell Dining. This page offers more comprehensive information about upcoming special events at different dining locations, like the “California Dreamin’” event at Cook House on April 19th.

Cornell Dining Now also has location services that direct you to the nearest eatery, which the Eatery app lacks. Such location services could be very useful for visitors and studenst new to the campus.

Comparing this official web app to the Eatery app reveals boththe strength and the potential for improvement of the latter. While  Cornell Dining Now offers more information and user-friendly designs suitable for a mobile environment, I  still prefer the Eatery app because of its clutter-free interface and customization features. If it adds location services, it would be my number-one app when I’m on the go.

Cornell is a confusing place to navigate. With 29 dining locations, there’s always something for you that you don’t know is there. If you have a busy schedule or simply like trying new things, the Eatery app is best for you. Of course, no app is the perfect substitute for taking care of yourself. On a busy day, get your favorite food at your favorite spot. You won’t regret it.