But company and college campuses are not to be overlooked as a “niche” amongst the food system; an estimated 20 million people eat from the same two food service providers at workplaces five times a day. Making changes within their systems can have a great potential impact on the way we produce, prepare, and distribute food. The group which presented Rumble, a product that could allow college student to voice their food preferences to the foodservice providers in a fun and social way, won the Applegate challenge.
The challenge presented by Batali & Bastianich Hospitality Group asked developers to improve and streamline the food safety inspections of restaurants. The team who presented Food Safety Mapping had spent the better part of the weekend extensively researching food safety issues nationwide and how they’re reported. Their final concept attempted to collect and use more consistent data that could connect the dots between disease outbreaks and restaurant food safety inspections.
Another team in this challenge devised an app for more immediate action: in their own words, the “Turbo Tax for passing food safety inspections.” The app, Kitchen Check, could instruct and update restaurants on the laws concerning their state’s food regulations, as well as provide community and tools for restauranteurs. Judge Corrine chuckled when asking the presenters: “But if I fail the inspection, will you go down with me?” The team behind Kitchen Check won the challenge anyway.
Two of the three groups in the final round of pitches for the Chipotle challenge centered their solution on reducing food waste, citing the large portions packed into burritos by the chain that often got thrown away by full diners. One, “Just Right,” allowed patrons to customize the size and ingredients in their order from the line at the restaurant, so that when they strolled up to the counter, their order would be ready, and the transaction simple.
But Dufresne played Devil’s Advocate: “You’re creating more work for the line cook,” he insisted. “He’s in the weeds, and he doesn’t care about Suzie’s order.” The group argued that the app would spare the chain food waste and hence save them food costs, as well as create loyalty thanks to a built-in program where customers would receive a free burrito after using the app to a certain threshold. The judges seemed at once irritated, aghast, and very intrigued by this product. Maybe that’s a good sign at a hackathon; the team behind Just Right won the challenge.
Perhaps not every food and dining-related problem needs a tech-based solution. One participant, Yangbo Du, created a system with his team for composting food waste at Chipotle, but didn’t make it to the finals. He admitted after viewing the final pitches that it didn’t have a strong enough tech component.
The pitches for the final challenge of the day, Google’s, seemed to raise more concerns about privacy than any previous challenge. The winner of the challenge created an app called Hive, which would serve as a personal trainer for your smartphone, with customized advice and a social network to share personal goals and receive congratulations. Overheard banter about the room suggested that many thought the app was asking a lot from the user in terms of sharing. But it would be much cheaper than hiring a trainer.
Prizes were handed out to each winning team, donated by the sponsor of their challenge. At the end of Hack//Dining, it seemed like just the beginning of the journey for many participants. Mike Caprio of the Food Safety Data Mapping product vowed he and his team would continue the concept, estimating that it could take a few months before any product was formed. Many others were newly enthused about refining their product, either because their pitch didn’t win the challenge, or it did.
“There were a number of products that came out of Hack//Dining that are readily usable in the real world, and that’s one of the key indicators of success for this type of hackathon,” said Lawrence.
But which one was “the best?” The judges didn’t choose an overall winner of the hackathon. So I asked folks around the room. While this is a very subjective question, and is limited to the challenges presented, many responded that the best pitches of the evening were those that had the most potential. Potential to just do something, I gathered.
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