What Students Want from College and University Foodservice Operations

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How to Keep Hungry Students on Campus

College and University Foodservice Operation Students

Keeping students well-nourished and healthy is the overarching mission of college and university foodservice operations. But, keeping hungry students on campus is a key challenge which operators face. A recent Technomic study found that “69% of students eat off-campus at least once a week” and only “33% of students are satisfied with their school’s foodservice facilities.” When dining options across campus are not on par with what students want, they’ll quickly become disengaged and leave campus to find what they’re craving.

To promote on-campus dining, foodservice operators must evolve as industry trends shift and consumer demand changes. Here are 6 actions college and university foodservice operations can take to drive satisfaction and keep hungry diners on campus.

 

1) Provide Convenient Campus Eats

College students manage full course loads, participate in clubs, play on sports teams, and get involved in the community. In some cases, they also maintain part-time or full-time jobs. With so many responsibilities on their plate, they don’t always have time to enjoy a sit-down meal at the cafeteria. To keep busy students well-nourished, it’s important operators understand the importance of offering flexible meal plans and convenient grab-and-go options, like:

  • Pre-packaged salads, wraps, and sandwiches
  • Fresh fruit and nuts
  • Smoothies chock-full of energy-boosting ingredients
  • Cheese and crackers
  • Yogurts and yogurt parfaits
  • Hummus and pita packs

2) Let Students Order-Ahead with Online Ordering

When students don’t have time to wait in a line to purchase food, they’re likely to skip meals altogether. But. offering online ordering gives students the flexibility needed to place orders at their convenience.

Implementing online ordering streamlines foodservice operations, improves the way you manage your business, and boosts student satisfaction. The demand for delivery is becoming increasingly popular across campuses. According to a recent survey (Technomic), 42% of students said they would like their on-campus dining operation to offer delivery. Given this trend, offering on-campus delivery will further improve satisfaction and engagement among student diners.

College and University Foodservice Operation Online Ordering

3) Rotate Menus and Promote Limited-Time Offers (LTOs)

Stagnant menus that never change or just keep rotating on the same schedule leads to every foodservice operator’s nightmare: MENU FATIGUE.

Symptoms include culinary-boredom and disinterest in any consumable item your business has to offer. This causes students to leave campus – typically in groups – to find something new and exciting to eat. The good news is that operators can combat the causes of menu fatigue before they even occur.

  • Promote Limited-Time Offers: LTOs are a low-cost, high-profit avenue to drive excitement, fuel consumer urgency, and increase sales. Click here to learn more about LTO menu best practices.
  • Update Menus Regularly: Updating menus on a regular basis keeps students interested in what you have to offer. If it’s the same menu day after day, year after year, they’ll leave campus to satisfy their hunger.
  • Add Seasonal Menu Items: Incorporating in-season ingredients, flavors, and dishes is a popular way to keep students interested year-round. For example, offer warm, sweet potato bisque in the cooler fall and winter months. Come spring and summer, offer chilled fruit soup.
  • Stay on Top of Food Trends: Do you know what’s trending across the industry? Understanding what consumers want and updating menus to reflect current trends boosts sales and encourages loyalty among student diners. Continuously check trusted non-commercial foodservice industry sites like Foodservice Director and Food Management. Their articles explain what’s hot on current menus and what’s no longer driving consumer interest.
  • Offer Special Menu Items Around Holidays: Holiday-related menu items provide a big opportunity for driving engagement, promoting LTOs, and increasing sales. Since these offerings are only available for a short time, students are more motivated to buy now, before they’re gone.

4) Give Students What They Want

In general, consumers are more inclined to dine where they know their satisfaction matters. Therefore, it’s important to keep a pulse on what students want and expect from your college and university foodservice operation. Show students you’re dedicated to keeping them happy by surveying them regularly. Ask questions like:

  • What is your favorite food? What is your least favorite food?
  • Do you have any dietary restrictions?
  • On a scale of 1-10, how likely are you to recommend current on-campus dining options to your friends?
  • Based on the current menu, what is your favorite meal or snack to order? What would you NOT miss if it was no longer available?
  • Do you ever skip meals? If so, which meal are you most likely to skip?
  • How do you rate the quality of food offered on campus?
  • How often do you purchase a hot meal and have time to sit, eat, and enjoy it?

Make menu revisions and updates driven by insights discovered from survey data. Asking students what they want and following through proves you’re dedicated to their satisfaction, encouraging them to dine on campus.

College and University Foodservice Operation_Dining

5) Operate Ethically

Younger generations are increasingly concerned about making ethical consumption decisions. College and university students want visibility into ingredient sourcing information, with an emphasis on seeking out locally-sourced items. They want to understand how dishes are prepared. And, if they’re following a non-vegan diet, they want to know that animals were raised and treated ethically. Waste reduction and sustainability are also key topics of concern for students. So, prepare food in such a way that helps reduce food and energy waste. And if you don’t already, put processes in place that promote sustainability, like recycling and composting programs.

Host fundraisers and donate proceeds to local organizations chosen by students to support and give back to the local community. Committing to initiatives like this boosts engagement and gives students a good reason to stay loyal to you. And when you’re an ethical business, students will want to work for you, which helps to increase employee retention.

6) Encourage Healthy Dining

It’s important for students to maintain a healthy diet and live a healthy lifestyle overall. Every year we see a higher prevalence of food allergies, trendy new diets, and nutritional concerns. This increases the demand for healthier options and better-for-you ingredients that support long-term health (think superfoods and plant-based options). College-age students understand that maintaining a healthy diet at a younger age promotes long-term longevity. When you clearly label items and their ingredients, students make well-educated dietary decisions and are more comfortable dining with you.


CaterTrax supports thousands of college and university foodservice operations across the United States and Canada. Customers enjoy a user-friendly online ordering platform while administrators improve the way they manage their business with powerful back of house features.

Click here to learn more about how CaterTrax’s catering management software can streamline your campus dining operation and improve satisfaction among both students and staff.

 

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