What’s for Lunch Today?

CTC Answers a Pervasive Parker Question


Photo credit: Tess Wayland

The Computer Technology Committee Lunchbot replies to a students’ text.

A student exits their last class before lunch and wonders one of the most pressing questions at Parker: what is for lunch? For years, the answer very often eluded them until they reached the cafeteria. However, the Computer Technology Committee (CTC) is taking the matter of finding that answer into their own hands.

At Student Government Plenary on November 12, the CTC heads took the stage to announce their recent projects, including the Lunch Bot. The Lunch Bot is a phone number that students can text and it will automatically respond with the lunch menu.

After a year of primarily remote learning and then finally returning to normal lunch, the CTC heads decided to bring back the Lunch Bot. CTC Head Jake Boxerman created and set-up the Lunch Bot earlier this year.

In Spring 2019, then sophomore Benji Gourdji created the original Lunch Bot. The program operated on a similar system to the new Lunch Bot but Gourdji created it as a final project in his Computer Programming 2 class. The Lunch Bot became quite popular before COVID-19 shut down in-person classes and eliminated the need for a Lunch Bot.

“We shut down so it didn’t have much of a fair chance,” Head Chef of the Parker cafeteria Zac Maness said about Gourdji’s Lunch Bot.

The CTC’s new Lunch Bot began with an average of around 50 texts per day. According to the CTC heads, that number of users along with word of mouth meant that the Lunch Bot was doing its job effectively.

“It seems like a valuable resource,” Maness said. He acknowledged that although the menu is available in several places including Instagram, text is a very convenient way for high schoolers to access it.

Every Sunday the week’s new lunch menu is processed into a simple text file, where it can then be sent as a reply to anyone who texts the Lunch Bot requesting the menu.

Code for the bot is written in the programming language Python and uses an SMS text service called Telnyx. The Lunch Bot originally used a texting service called Twilio which charges $0.0075 per send and receive, totaling $0.015 per use. That cost was originally covered by the CTC budget.

The Bot was originally funded with $20 and then an additional $25.

However, issues began to arise with the Lunch Bot getting overloaded. When the CTC heads announced the Lunch Bot in Student Government on November 12, they asked the whole student body to send a text to the bot.

Due to a routine sleep mode that the bot goes into every thirty minutes, it did not respond immediately which led to students spamming messages. The CTC heads estimated that it received 2,736 texts.

“Essentially, if you spam the Lunch Bot, it will cost us so much money we won’t be able to have the Lunch Bot anymore,” CTC Head and sophomore Grant Koh said.

This influx was pricey, surpassing the CTC budget which was raised and then surpassed again, Treasurer Alex Carlin said. This prompted the CTC heads to find a new texting service, Telnyx, which only charges $0.0025 per text, making it one third the price of Twilio.

Though Telnyx has additional bugs and issues, the service is a potential solution to the funding hurdle. A Participatory Budgeting proposal requesting additional funds for the service will likely be proposed by the heads during the next voting cycle. The Tech Department and the Student Life budget are also potential funders. 

“I think it’s a worthwhile investment and should be fully funded,” Boxerman said.