How Grubhub Makes Diner Choice a Strategic Advantage

by | Oct 6, 2021 | Blogs, Restaurant, Technology

Grubhub Refueling Station at the Governors Ball

Music fans at New York’s Governors Ball enjoy digital ordering and pickup at the Grubhub Refueling Station.

Grubhub Campus: expanding mobile ordering to wherever customers want

We recently spoke with Eric Harper, senior director and general manager of Grubhub Campus and closed ecosystems. He shared his thoughts on what a complete digital journey looks like, the types of environments and markets that are a natural fit for Grubhub, and how the foodservice industry is evolving to meet growing diner demand for choice and selection.

Can you tell us a little about what you do at Grubhub?

Certainly. Grubhub Campus and Closed Ecosystems touches a number of markets, including higher education, events, resorts, and stadiums, our newest business vertical.

In my role, I work closely with our sales organization, our account management and customer success teams, technical operations – you name it, and some piece of the campus world runs through our team. I have a strong background in product development, so that’s where my passion and my technical knowledge of products comes in. It’s really satisfying when you build something and you see that whole solution, that ordering system, the pickup lockers, that whole experience coming together for an operator and a diner.

When we think about what a complete solution for food in the campus and closed ecosystem space is, what we’re doing with Apex is a big part of that story. One of the things that differentiates our offering and ordering system is that we have an outstanding integration with Apex locker systems. The lockers help campuses and businesses increase operational efficiencies and provide fast order pickup for students and guests, so it’s a win-win.



Diners at the University of Arizona can order with the Grubhub Campus app and pick up at the Apex food lockers just outside the food court.

Let’s talk about Higher Ed. This is Grubhub’s largest campus vertical, right?

That’s right. We’re at more than 250 college campuses nationwide and that number is growing rapidly. If you think about our base of students, it’s a large volume of students at these campuses who are placing orders every day, and then you think about how do people actually want to receive those orders? A lot of this could be done via real-time ordering, but for a busy college student trying to fit that order in between classes with maybe seven to 12 minutes to pick up their food, a pickup locker makes the process much more convenient.

I was at a campus recently that was running a food court in the student union, with many different dining concepts for students to choose from. With Grubhub Campus technology, we’re able to provide both in-person ordering experiences (via kiosks) in that food court and digital experiences with the mobile app. We also have mobile-only options where an entire dining hall will be available on our mobile app for students to order from. And then for handoff options, universities can choose to utilize Apex pickup lockers or allow students to traditionally pick up food like they would in a dining hall or restaurant environment.



Resorts World guests can pick up orders poolside from any of nearly 40 restaurants across the site.

Grubhub and Apex recently launched a mobile order/locker pickup program at Resorts World Las Vegas. Can you tell us about that?

Resorts World Las Vegas is a highly innovative new property with a lot of tech-forward guest amenities. So of course, digital ordering through the Grubhub app was a natural fit. In fact, we run all the room service mobile ordering capabilities onsite, and the Resorts World staff handles the delivery of the meals to locations around the property. In addition to room service, Resorts World also has two sets of Apex lockers for order pickup, catering to two different sets of customers —one set for resort employees and one set for resort guests.

For the employee, Resorts World has a very sophisticated underground facility for helping employees get around and remain as unobtrusive as possible. It’s almost like a mini city and it’s just wild how large and sophisticated the operation is. And you think of the typical employee there –they’re very busy and need the convenience of having food delivered to a location where they can pick it up quickly and conveniently, which is made possible with Apex lockers. There’s a fully functioning vending operation in addition to the lockers that are set up for mobile order food pickup.

Then there’s the resort guest customer, and for that customer, we have a poolside locker setup where guests can order delivery from any of the roughly 40 restaurants on site to the poolside lockers. A Resorts World Las Vegas team member receives the order, takes it once ready and runs it to the pool lockers for the customer to pick up.

What’s interesting about this is that a classic poolside restaurant is usually going to have a limited menu with a small subset of choices for people to choose from. With the locker experience, we’ve opened that up to a choice of 40 restaurants — giving guests an ample amount of choices to find whatever food they are craving. They can get the food they want from any of these restaurants delivered to them and that’s really the power of what this can be — it’s all about choices for the diner and making the ordering experience as easy as possible.

We’ve also been reading about some new Grubhub projects for stadiums and events. How is that going?

We just launched a partnership with the Washington Football Team that allows fans to order food for pickup right from their seats at FedExField — meaning they can skip the line and spend more time watching the game. This is our first professional sports partnership and we’re excited to have created a custom ordering experience for fans. We have nearly a decade of experience operating in high-volume environments like college campuses and saw a natural opportunity to bring our capabilities to stadium environments.

Another high-volume environment Grubhub is involved with is events. In fact, we just recently partnered with Apex at the Governors Ball Music Festival in Queens, New York. We offered our mobile ordering capabilities for the event, and concert-goers were able to pick up their food from one of the Apex lockers once it was ready. Again, it’s that whole idea of ample choice, selection and convenience for diners.


Grubhub Refueling Station Gov Ball

Hungry music-lovers at NYC’s Gov Ball could order with Grubhub and pick up from the Apex lockers in seconds.

Let’s talk about how Grubhub is working with ghost kitchens.

Ghost kitchens are fundamentally an operator spacing feature of our platform. We talked a lot earlier about bringing choice to the diner, and ghost kitchens are one way to do that since they offer a flexible way for restaurant owners to experiment with new menu concepts, brand a subset of existing menu items, or capture unmet customer demand without adding overhead.

Part of our ability to deliver to the operator side of this is allowing the operator to effectively run and operate that ghost kitchen or shared kitchen model. These concepts make it very simple and straightforward for a partner of ours to bring new concepts in and integrate their existing operations with the Apex smart lockers for the driver handoff.

Personally, I see this concept coming back to the theme of choice and selection. Ghost (also called virtual) kitchens are going to continue to be a massive industry trend for a long time. No one ever tells you that they want less choice or less selection. Diners want more of both and the industry is going to provide it by adopting more of these concepts. We’re seeing a lot of this in the SMB and enterprise space right now as more operators are experimenting with these concepts due to the attractive low cost to entry and ability to spin up concepts quickly.


Jersey Mike's Ghost Kitchen at Rider University

The Jersey Mike’s ghost kitchen at Rider University offers easy mobile ordering with the Grubhub Campus app and fast, contactless order pickup.

It all comes back to the importance of choice and selection, doesn’t it?

It does! One thing that we’ve seen from Grubhub’s network of more than 300,000 restaurants across the United States, is that when a diner is thinking about ordering food for breakfast, lunch, dinner or whatever occasion, one of the biggest factors in that diner successfully completing an order is having the selection that they want.

When you have a restaurant or a cuisine in mind and you’re able to quickly find it and know you can get it delivered or pick it up at a locker, you’re more apt to complete the order.

I think control also plays a role here. Everyone has their personal view and preference of how they want to interact with food delivery, and if your preference is “I want to place a digital order”, or “I want contactless handoff”, the pickup locker is an ideal solution to make that happen. With Apex, we’re bringing that choice to diners.

With all the change taking place in the foodservice industry, what’s the most exciting thing you see happening?

A lot of people have talked about a parallel with what’s taken place in the tech world. There’s now a variety of services like Google Cloud Platform, Amazon AWS, Microsoft Azure Cloud, and others. Those services seek to let companies go onto a standardized platform and then have a lower cost to execute on their vision using these standardized blocks.

What’s cool about what we’re doing is that we’re figuring out as an industry what those standardized blocks are. Then we’re letting operators assemble them so that they can make their customers happy, whatever that looks like. I believe for the next five, 10 years we’ll see this play out in the continued transformation of foodservice.

What’s next for Grubhub?

The campus space is super exciting and has a lot of possibilities for growth and innovation. We work in extremely high-volume environments every day, with some operators doing thousands of orders a day at a single location. This is very high order volume and it’s because they’re working in these environments with large concentrations of students, resort guests, fans at stadiums — all these people coming together in one space at one time.

We want to continue to bring the mobile ordering, pickup, and delivery experience to more of these spaces, while helping operators provide ample choice, selection, and convenience for diners.


Our thanks to Eric Harper at Grubhub for talking with us. We hope you found the conversation as fascinating and informative as we did. It was great hearing about Grubhub’s rapidly growing campus dining operation, and how it’s bringing mobile ordering to many kinds of high-volume locations and events. Our big takeaway? Successful foodservice operators will continue to give diners the choice, selection and control they demand, and Grubhub and Apex are giving operators the tools to do just that.

To find out how to improve your customers’ choices with fast, contactless pickup, learn more about Apex food locker solutions.