Sunday 28th January
On Friday, The University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business made history when it announced the opening of the world’s first ever automated check-out cafe. Speaking at the unveiling, a senior school official said “We revolutionized business education before when we were the first school in the US to offer PhD and EMBA programs. Ensuring our students have access to the best facilities in the world is just another example of us setting the tone for management education. Today the world watches closely, for we are not launching a food outlet, but the next great experience.”
As part of a tour of the facility the school conducted for journalists, this reporter took a cue from one of the signs put up and tried to fool the restaurant’s cutting edge technology by trying to sneak out a Hershey’s under the three layers of clothing that the pleasant, bracing winter mornings of Chicago necessitate… and succeeded. We at Chibus pride ourselves on how light-fingered we are unlike some of our less talented counterparts from the east coast who tried similar feats. However, this seemed an aberration and on the whole, the system seemed to work perfectly.
Speaking with journalists after the event, Chief Designer Geetika Belivardes walked us through some of the features of the cafe. “We have scanners at the door that detect the UChicago cards of each person entering – the cards don’t work on most doors and half the printers at Booth – but we managed to integrate them perfectly with our systems. Once the student picks something up and walks out, we automatically deduct their my.UChicago account (which currently records tuition, insurance cost, etc.) for their purchase. Pilots we ran show this actually increases consumption as it reminds students that they can stuff their faces till kingdom come and their expense will still be a rounding error compared to tuition. We also prevent students who have a class right now from entering so that we don’t encourage flakers. To address the needs of this late segment, we offer a ‘Maroon mode’ (only $100/month) where students can order through our app and get food delivered to all ‘C’ classrooms within an hour of purchase.”
While some stakeholders have expressed concerns on how their privacy would be affected, others were less worried. Said Jeremiah Spetson, a second year, full-time MBA student “The school having a few photos of me picking up something other than a healthy salad is not something that’ll keep me awake at night. If someone recorded some of my antics after the LATAM party last week on the other hand… #whyBooth. I’d take this loss of privacy any day over the discomfort of having to make small-talk with my Negotiations professor (the one who always cold calls me with unerring accuracy, just when I open GroupMe) for five minutes while waiting in the extra-long lunch lines.”
Finally, some have wondered what this means for Booth in the long-term. Is this a one-off improvement of facilities? Is this the ultimate answer to ‘Why are you here and not somewhere else?’? Or is this part of a long-term strategy to get on a P&Q list that reads something like “10 coolest facilities that MBA schools have”? Darien Kellorv, part-time “Innovation Sensei and Marketing Sorcerer” at a local startup and full-time podcaster put forward a different theory. “In an increasingly competitive MBA education market, one way that business schools can remain relevant is to diversify their product offering. I see this as Booth testing the e-Commerce and retail waters. I would not be surprised if a large scale acquisition – say of Mariano’s – is in the offing”. It remains to be seen whether this Seer of Management Strategy, this Viking of Customer insight is right, but everyone agrees that Booth has suddenly become a more interesting place.
With inputs from Vikram Sivakumar, Class of 2018