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Personal Showcase: digital menu of a school canteen based on Jira (Part I)

Some years ago the mayor of the village where I lived back then said at a speech:

"You are happily invited to do something for our community. Everyone is called and invited to help and contribute".

I decided on a rather obvious option and for a few years I supported an association that provides lunch at the local school for pupils and teachers.
My personal focus was on technical questions and the implementation of several solutions, so we finally introduced Jira for an use case we had.

How is a lunchtime catering based on an association implemented?

In many communities it is common practice to hire a caterer. Alternatively, in many federal states there is the option of organizing lunch service on the basis of an association (within Germany it is called "e.V.").

While hiring a caterer is easy as paying the company a defined amount money and they will cook food doing it in a self-organized way by a lot of people helping voluntarily in their free time it is not that easy.
In fact you have to do many things on your own with a team of motivated people doing all the work as a honorary post.

On the other side the challenges are no different from a commercial service - there needs to be planning, purchasing, cost calculation and finally cooking, cleaning up, motivating supporters and communication with the school. To make it short: in the end you need to have processes and tools.
Why? Things need to be organized, managed, maintained - in a structured way.
No wonder we started looking into Jira early.
You can imagine that we used the common options like workflows, screens, filters, Kanban boards - that sound surely familiar to you why I do not want to go into detail here for those standard processes.

Getting rid of a bunch of paper flying around

One day we noticed a digital menu on a screen in a restaurant nearby and agreed: something like this we want to have, too! So why not to do it using Jira?

From a plain technical view a digital menu is usually a reasonably large screen/flat-screen TV which, controlled by a standard PC, displays the daily menu in a way that is easily visible to all diners.
Sometimes this is supplemented by current information, news or even a weather report.

It soon became apparent that any of the professional solutions like seen in canteens of larger universities would exceed the budget of our association.

On the other hand a "simple" solution was no option because we had requirements by the local authorities that must be met.

Our requirements ... and the legal requirements by local authorities

The requirements given by the law made things rather complicated.
According to regulations you are obliged to indicate whether ingredients are contained which could trigger undesirable reactions in the food guests. For this purpose, each dish must be checked against a list of 14 firmly defined ingredients. If an ingredient is contained, the food must be labelled.
Assuming that everyone knows their very own food intolerances and/or allergies, the diner guest can decide whether they can eat the offered food at all.
However, the regulation does not mean that the kitchen staff must necessarily cook without the 14 documented additives (some examples include mustard, gluten, fish, eggs).
In order to underline the importance of the regulation, the responsible representatives of the food control authorities regularly check the documentation.
It is required that the documentation is kept in such a way that later additions/changes are prevented (this is synonym to the "auditing acceptability" term used in the business context, although this specific term never surfaces in particular in the catering environment).

It quickly became clear that Jira could cover our requirements and also those of the monitoring authorities - without any special configurations or apps.
Compared to the usual requirements well-known from a business perspective, the setup was still simple despite all the regulations and requirements.

A task that we had given ourselves: we absolutely wanted to present the menu in a visually appealing way on the screen in form of a menu card, garnished with some nice graphics.
80% of the diners were not older than 16 years - with an all too technical presentation without graphic elements, the digital solution would have been difficult to attract attention.
So we deliberately refrained from displaying a Jira dashboard or using the wallboard function. Although we had a closer look into it and discussed this option a lot we did not find a nice way to enrich the wallboard view with some funky graphics and such.
It would also have been necessary to reliably call up a browser with a dashboard and adjust the font size if necessary. This seemed to us fundamentally too complex - on most days only staff with no technical knowledge was present.
Remember: almost all members of the staff were helping on a voluntary basis in the canteen.

The complete system for the public display of the meal plan therefore had to be able to function fully automatically - stable and reliable.

The actual work involved was therefore to query all the necessary data via REST API and then prepare the content so that it could be easily displayed on the screen by a separate display software.

What's next?

In the second part of my showcase, I'll be talking about details of how the entire system was designed and structured - how it works together with the canteen's existing cloud solution. The upcoming part will also handle which platform we used - and what we would do differently today.



Thank you fro your article? 

Do you have a plan to share the some screenshots, workflows and automations?

Daniel Ebers Community Leader Jan 06, 2021

Hi @Gonchik Tsymzhitov

awesome question and thanks a lot for your interest!
Yes, in the next part I'll be showing the configuration alongside with some suprises (by means of configuration that you would not want to bring in on a "normal Jira instance").
I hope to have the text finished by the end of this week the latest :)


Like Gonchik Tsymzhitov likes this

Great beginning, @Daniel Ebers . 

Looking forward to the full story on how you actually excluded the items made from the 'forbidden' ingredients on the wall dash board, or did you categorize different gadgets based on the ingredients that were excluded? 

Thanks for sharing thus far. 


Daniel Ebers Community Leader Jan 18, 2021

@Kris G _Alacriz_thanks a lot!
Meanwhile the last part was published.
The ingredients were just of type "Checkboxes" but also Components would have been an option - so also in this matter nothing very special here. The main logic is to parse the checked boxes for the display, and to get it via API beforehand, of course ;)
For the public screen it was mandatory to list the ingredients but not to highlight them in a special way or so.
The confirmation that the data show the truth (instead of taking live a draft without the entered ingredients or some data entered half-way) was done per a simple logic that only data are displayed which are in status "Published" within Jira.


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