VUB digitalises COVID-registration using

The VUB student restaurant strives to serve the best food possible to the largest number of staff and students during their limited lunch breaks. Ensuring people timely access to their lunches proved to be significantly more complex when the government required the VUB restaurant to keep a ledger of contact information of all their customers (i.e. as part of the measures taken to fight the COVID-19 pandemic). A first patch-up solution simply saw the students and staff write down their information on sheets of papers provided at the restaurant’s entrance. However, this solution already generated waiting lines for the 200-odd staff members eating their daily lunches over the (extraordinarily) quiet summer period. One week before the start of the academic year and with the imminent return of thousand of hungry students, it became apparent that managing these long queues would be near to impossible for Philippe Merckx (head of staff at the VUB restaurants) and his teams.

After a short discussion with Philippe he gave us a week to develop a system with the following requirements:

  • Throughput, throughput, throughput: Users should be able to provide their contact information as fast as possible, allowing them to enter the restaurant and get their lunch as fast as possible.
  • Low-barrier to entry: Staff and students shouldn’t be expected to start installing yet another app.
  • Real-time Statistics: Philippe was forced to restrict the available spots in the restaurant from the usual 1000 (+-) to a mere 400. It was important that staff and students could check how many spots were available at a given point in time.

Within this one-week timeframe we were able to build Philippe a production-ready digital registration system coupled to a real-time busyness indicator.

QR-based Registration à la

We set off to design and build a system that would match Philippe’s requirements. More importantly, the goal was to build two MVPs. First, an MVP which we could test using a group of familiar volunteers at the Software Languages Lab. Second, an MVP which we could use to test in the intended environment (i.e. the restaurant). We developed both MVPs using within the given timeframe of a week.

Two MVPs and a production-ready system in one week, how many sleepless night does that amount to? Zero to be exact, all thanks to the power of All it took the develop the final system are the components shown below!

The resulting system is simple but elegant. Students and staff scan a QR code upon entering the hall which redirects their browser to a webpage automatically generated by our platform. This webpage asks the user for their contact information after which this information is securely transmitted to our platform’s database. Furthermore, the fact that a new user checked in is directly reflected on a web dashboard containing a real-time business indicator. Upon leaving the dining hall the same user scans another QR code to signal their departure, thereby updating the busyness indicator.

Restaurants and beyond

At the time of writing a daily average of 600 people use the system to register across an ever-growing list of locations on VUB campuses (i.e. both in Etterbeek and Jette). Needless to say, letting all these people register manually would have been unfeasible! Meanwhile the added value of has been made obvious to other VUB employees. As such, our QR registration system is soon to be used for all student activities and adapted to fit other scenarios within the VUB. Stay tuned!

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