Conquering A Feeding Frenzy

Conquering A Feeding Frenzy

Pensacola Christian College gets students to meals quickly by employing custom-made turnstiles

Pensacola christian college (pcc), in northwest florida, is located just off the warm emerald waters of florida’s gulf coast. pcc became a reality in 1974 when 100 students arrived at the college’s one building.


There are three dining options, but most of PCC’s 4900 students eat in one of two dining facilities—the Four Winds or the Varsity. The two dining halls serve about 10,000 meals a day, two-thirds of which are served at the Four Winds facility. Meals are served three times a day, seven days a week. Anyone who has been to a university, or visited one at meal time, knows it can be a real feeding frenzy. Students are busy, they’re hungry, and they want to get in and out. For PCC, the challenge was managing students into the dining halls in such a way as to qualify them (they have proper ID) and count them, to better manage meal projections and food costs.

Pensacola Christian College had turnstiles installed in both dining halls that were 20 years old, and as Amy Glenn, the college’s chief communication officer, put it, “we had exhausted the life out of those units.” PCC was also having real problems getting replacement parts, so it was high time for a new entrance solution.


For a number of months, PCC staff researched various companies offering turnstile entrances and found the visual appearance of each of the products to be quite similar. “We needed someone to work with us to customize our entrances,” said Glenn. “What brought us to Boon Edam was their willingness to sit down with us and modify their products to fit our needs.” The College wanted recessed scanners in each cabinet and a durable, plexiglass covering for protection. Cost was also a factor. “The fact that the turnstiles are made in America cut our shipping costs, and that made a big difference for us,” said Glenn. “It’s been night and day right from the beginning, compared to our old entrances. Plus, we know we can get parts quickly, and mechanically the turnstiles have performed super well.”

The request for cabinet customization was presented to Boon Edam’s engineering team for feasibility, assessment and design. Details such as the dimensions of the card reader were used to ensure enough space was available inside the cabinet and to develop special brackets to hold the device in place. A custom cutout was designed for the cabinet’s top and for the placement of the plexiglass. Drawings of these customizations were approved by PCC, and then the extra materials were ordered and made as specified in the factory.

At Four Winds, the turnstiles were installed in January 2016. There are eight turnstiles at two separate entrances, but four units alone can handle 1,000 students in 15 minutes or less at popular times. “We don’t want our students waiting in lines,” said Glenn. “We could have designed a huge lobby, but our entrance size with this kind of high throughput is ideal.”


A tap scanner is used by the students to gain entrance with his/her PCC Smart Card. The system identifies that the card itself has not expired, that the student is eligible to attend the meal, and that he has not scanned for the same meal at another venue on campus.

Students have up to three dining options included without extra cost, but may only attend a particular meal once. If the student has forgotten her card, there is a keyboard and monitor connected to one of the turnstiles at each location for the student to use his campus login to gain access and open the turnstile. An attendant on duty oversees the entrance and assists students and guests as needed.

At the 1600-capacity Four Winds, all eight turnstiles are used for entering, lobby attendants monitor the exit, so no turnstiles are needed. At the 900-capacity Varsity, four entrance turnstiles were installed in August of this year. Similar to the Four Winds, attendants monitor the exit and no turnstiles are installed there.

For purchased guest tickets and other special events, some turnstiles are reserved for campus guests who are identified manually by the attendant on duty, and these guests do not use the tap scanner to gain entrance, but they’re still added to the meal counts by the turnstile.

Those same PCC Smart Cards are also used for access to residence hall rooms, recreational facilities, campus gates and sporting events. Other accounts tied to the card are for library use, printing and oncampus debit purchases at the Campus Store, Palms Grille, Common Grounds Café, laundry, vending and more.

“We live and die by our counts each day. The counts are vital in our estimating process for meal needs. We save money by reducing food waste, while ensuring we meet demand and keep our students well fed and happy,” said Glenn.


“We use the turnstiles not just for eligibility but also to count the number of meals eaten,” explained Glenn. “Our request for these specialized turnstiles was to modify the design so students can scan in as they begin entering, then a light comes on to show the student is cleared to continue to enter. With our high throughput in such a short time span, this little feature reduces possible damage to the turnstile and, more importantly, possible injury to our students.”

Many universities that use tripod turnstiles learn the hard way during their first set of “economy” turnstiles, that adding a user feedback signal to indicate when the turnstile is unlocked is important. Without a signal, such as a light turning green, hurried students may not hear the “click” of the turnstile unlocking, and will attempt to walk forward too early. The result is that they bang against the arm causing unnecessary wear and tear, more service calls, and unnecessary parts replacement.

Another challenge that Pensacola addressed was fine tuning the amount of time the turnstiles remained unlocked, which can be adjusted at the site. If a turnstile is set to relock too quickly, distracted students may be slow to enter the turnstile after their authorization and bang against a relocked arm. Aside from the wear and tear this presents, they would have to badge in again to gain entry (inflating the meal count) or request assistance from the attendant and slow down the line. Users like PCC will spend a few days observing line behaviors to adjust the settings to an optimal interval of time.


Meal counts from each turnstile are entered into food management software to create ratios based on weekly, daily, and annual counts, and to calculate a per person quantity of every line item served from each menu. Variations in food predictions can still occur based upon weather, change in student schedules, and menu changes that add popular or unpopular items into the menu rotation. However, having a turnstile count for every meal provides the best opportunity for PCC to avoid waste while providing a wide variety of satisfying menu options.

“We live and die by our counts each day. As a large food service operation, the counts are vital in our estimating process for meal needs. Accurate counts save us money by reducing food waste, while still ensuring we meet demand and keep our students well fed and happy,” said Glenn.

How are the 12 turnstile entrances functioning for PCC? “Our team has been quite pleased, I’ve heard no complaints at all, and our students are consistently able to get to their meals with little or no waiting,” said Glenn.

This article originally appeared in the January 2017 issue of Security Today.

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