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New LSU Dining app offers nutritional information

Those looking not only for something to eat on the LSU campus but also looking to eat healthy now have new technology available in the palm of their hand to do both.

As part of a recent move to bolster its Internet presence, LSU Dining recently introduced a new smartphone application, commonly referred to as an "app," bringing a wealth of information on dining options at LSU.

LSU Dining Mobile App for your Cell Phone
Video: LSU Dinning mobile app, kiosk demonstrations

Frank Bourgeois/LSU University Relations

Dean Samuels, marketing director for LSU Dining, said that the increased Internet presence answers a call to better provide guests with valuable nutritional information on products offered in the various LSU dining halls, restaurants and retail locations.

"As a dining operation on a university campus, it is difficult to ensure that your guests know both the quality of what's being served and understand the detail and amount of work that goes into a meal that they buy, consume in a matter of minutes and then go about their day," he said. "We wanted to make that information readily available."

The upgrade began in the summer of 2012 with the launch of LSU Dining's redesigned website. Samuels said changes were made so that the site could adopt a format more favorable to hosting new detailed nutritional information for the items offered in its various locations. This data is made available through the Webtrition menu management online database.

While websites are believed by some to currently be the best technological means of relaying information, Samuels said, the evolution of communication technology includes the need to have a presence in the world of portable devices, such as smartphones.

"With this shift, an app has become an even more effective way of getting a message across," he said. "This is LSU Dining's way of staying ahead of the curve."
           
A healthy app-etite
           
Launched at the beginning of the spring 2013 semester, LSU Dining's new mobile app is currently available for Apple iOS devices such as the iPhone, iPad and iPod. Accessible through LSU Mobile or through App On Campus – both free apps available through Apple's App Store – the LSU Dining mobile app is designed to provide detailed information on LSU Dining facilities.

Just as the redesigned website offers access to nutritional information using Webtrition, LSU Dining app users also have access to the same nutritional information. Users can select "Menus" from the toolbar at the bottom of the screen to access full menus for each venue.

In addition to portion size, Samuels said, the listing for each location and item includes information on calories, fat, cholesterol, sodium, carbohydrates, fiber, sugars and protein makeup.

"We're always told that we should read the labels on what we purchase in the grocery store," he said. "But, when that meal is prepared or purchased in a restaurant setting, it becomes more difficult to obtain that information. This app facilitates that need, and will hopefully help to create healthy habits that students will be able to carry into their lives going forward."

The app interface for the two resident dining halls – 459 Commons and The 5 – is unique, Samuels said, because more information is provided on their offerings.

LSU Dining Mobile App
Those who utilize the LSU Dining mobile app can see the nutritional information for all items served or sold at each location.
Jim Zietz/LSU University Relations

"Users can see the menus for breakfast, lunch and dinner at these locations, with items listed by serving station," he said. "In addition, a calendar feature allows the user to see what will be offered at a venue that day or in the future. This is especially helpful for the resident dining facilities, where menu offerings vary."

Retail outlets on campus maintain a consistent list of daily offerings, Samuels said. However, users can still use the app to see nutritional information for items at these locations, as provided by their respective databases.

The resident dining hall listings also include special icons to specifically identify items that are balanced in calories, fat, saturated fats, cholesterol and sodium content; items made through sustainably sourced methods and ingredients; and items that fit into strict vegetarian, vegan or gluten-free diets.

By clicking on the "Details" tab for each location, users can see real-time operational hours for each location, Samuels said. In addition, a mapping feature using the Google Maps interface offers GPS driving or walking directions to dining facilities.

"Someone unfamiliar with the campus that has no idea where these locations are or what they look like can use the map feature not only to see directions, but can also see a visual of the facility's exterior," Samuels said.

Users can also use the app to keep up with LSU Dining news, such as holiday hours or times and locations of special events, as well as information on special offers.

Those who are fans of social media can utilize the sharing feature of the app to let others know about their dining activities on campus, whether it is event information or simply showing their favorite menu items, Samuels said.

"People post everything on Facebook or Twitter nowadays," he said. "Why not have them post the nutritional information of what they're eating as well? By clicking on the respective share icon, it will launch that program and allow them to either email or post a link to that information for their friends to see."

Another feature of the app allows users to provide feedback on their dining experiences. Through a rating system, guests can provide their opinions on topics including menu variety and quality, promotional items offered, experience with staff and management and facility appearance and atmosphere.

The information gathered through the feedback feature is used in multiple ways, Samuels said.

"It's a great way for users to communicate with us," he said. "We want our guests to let us know how we're doing. It can help make us aware of situations that we may not have learned about as quickly. It can also help us get opinions on particular menu items. When you complete a survey, we receive an email within 30 seconds to let us know. This feature allows us to garner feedback on what we're doing well or what we can possibly improve upon to provide the best dining experience possible."

LSU Dining Mobile App for your Cell Phone
LSU Dining officials hope that the new mobile app can benefit both incoming students looking for information on campus dining options and current students who want to integrate smart eating practices into their daily lives.
Jim Zietz/LSU University Relations

For those not using Apple iOS products, special iPad kiosks are available in both The 5 and 459 Commons. The kiosks offer convenient access to daily menus and the nutritional content of each menu item served at the location of the kiosk, as well as on the menus at other LSU Dining locations. However, Samuels said, the kiosk app differs slightly from the mobile version.

"Through the kiosks, students can compile menu items," he said. "This allows them to see if they want to have multiple servings of an item, or to add items up to see the total nutritional value of an entire meal."

Samuels said that offering such detailed nutritional information not only showcases the variety of items featured by LSU Dining venues, but also gives users a better understanding on what they are consuming on a daily basis and how their diet affects their lives.

"College is a time of learning and creating habits that will become staples for the rest of your life," he said. "Part of that entire experience is dining. Having an app that makes this information so accessible creates an environment where students make more informed decisions about what they eat or drink every day."

Food for thought
           
The LSU Dining app has elicited a positive initial response since its launch, Samuels said.

"We've gotten a lot of good feedback so far," he said. "Many people who haven't even used the app yet have told us that they're simply glad that such an app is even available."

LSU Dining officials will evaluate the app later in the year to see if any changes or enhancements will be made, Samuels said, including a possible version specific for iPad as well as for other operating systems.

Samuels said that while he hopes for university officials to promote use of the app to incoming students through orientation programs, he also believes that current students can find the app to be a useful tool to integrate into their lives.

"As freshmen or students new to the area come to LSU, this program could serve a great benefit to help become acclimated to the campus and to begin a more healthy diet," he said. "Current students know the terrain and may have already developed their habits, but there is always a thirst for knowledge and keeping up with new trends. People like using apps. They make things that are sometimes seen as routine – such as managing your nutrition – more fun."

For more information on LSU Dining, call 225-578-6642 or visit the LSU Dining website at www.dineoncampus.com/lsu. LSU Dining can also be found on Facebook at www.facebook.com/LSUDining and on Twitter at @LSUDining.