NPD research: Students’ satisfaction with on-campus dining lags quick serve restaurant ratings

Students rate taste and flavor of food lower at on-campus dining halls than QSRs.

College and university dining halls have their work cut out for them as young consumers with sophisticated and discerning taste buds expect more from their college dining halls. According to The NPD Group, a market research company that continually tracks consumer usage of commercial and non-commercial foodservice outlets, college students give the quality of food and beverages at college dining halls lower satisfaction ratings than chain and campus-based restaurants. Whether the satisfaction ratings are based on perception or reality, there is a significant opportunity for on-campus dining services to improve their customer satisfaction.

College-age students have become savvy about dining out and are among the most frequent restaurant visitors. Quick service restaurants (QSR) have been working to meet the needs of this sought after age group by improving operations and adding higher quality food and beverage items, and yet young adult’s satisfaction with QSRs overall has only increased minimally since 2002, NPD reports. Young adults are even less satisfied with college dining halls, according to NPD’s CREST OnSite® service, which tracks usage of foodservice at colleges and universities, business and industry, secondary schools, hospitals, lodging, recreation, senior care, military, and vending segments.

NPD’s CREST OnSite finds student satisfaction ratings for food attributes -- taste and flavor, quality – at college dining halls under perform compared to the major quick-service chain industry average. Aspects of beverage offerings – choice and quality of beverages – are rated somewhat better but still under perform relative to QSRs. Even on-campus restaurants, both chain and independent, are rated lower than the QSR industry benchmark.

With restaurants shaping young adults’ expectations on what should be available to them when they dine at school, college food providers have tough competition but also the opportunity to reverse negative perceptions by improving the quality of the food and beverages served. It may also be a case of making students aware of the quality of the food with more aggressive marketing such as tastings/sampling, ads, or use of social media. What college and university dining halls have going for them is convenience, which students consistently rank high in customer satisfaction. Students should be continually reminded of this benefit.


More From FoodService Director

Managing Your Business
alumni worker

It’s a sure sign that a school is doing something right when its students want to come back and work as adults. From the standpoint of the foodservice director, though, there is plenty to gain from retaining homegrown talent—call it the ultimate return on investment. In the wake of back-to-school season, two dining programs with a robust alumni contingent share their thoughts on hiring former customers.

Local expertise

At Georgia Southern University, about one-third of Eagle Dining Services’ 107 full-time employees are alumni. “They way we do things on our campus may be very...

Managing Your Business
business ladder climbing illustration

Recruiting talent is only half the battle for Mike Folino, associate director of nutrition services at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center in Columbus, Ohio. Once he’s attracted good employees, providing clear opportunities for advancement can help retain them—but knowing when to bring up the topic in conversation can be tricky.

Prior to hiring

Folino likes to touch on advancement during the initial interview process, but the extent to which he does so changes case by case. “I have had interviews where we knew right away that we needed to discuss our structure and...

Ideas and Innovation
woman surprise

When I joined the staff at FoodService Director in the spring of 2015, I couldn’t believe how much there was to learn about the intricacies of the industry. My past experience, from kindergarten to my college days to on-the-job meals, would lead me to believe that noncommercial dining was a kind of automated process—an amenity that’s expected, and one you only become aware of if something goes wrong.

But as with my own household chores, there are no magical elves making sure the business of feeding students, seniors and hospital patients is done, and done well. Foodservice...

Managing Your Business
hands team

In November, students at University of Missouri in Columbia began leading protests against discrimination faced by people of color on campus—including some marches through the dining halls. Julaine Kiehn, director of the school’s campus dining services, said the 2015-16 school year was a tough one, but she was proud of MU’s students for being at the forefront of a national movement.

And not only did the protests launch important conversations with students, but also with staff. Kiehn heard the protests and thought that her student workers, at least, might not feel safe and welcome...

FSD Resources