The number of students opting to stay on campus for their dining needs has increased to pre-recession levels, according to a new report. One of the main reasons for the uptick: menu variety. According to Technomic Inc.’s College and University Trend Report, 69% of students surveyed say they purchase food and beverages from on-campus facilities at least once a week, an increase from 62% in 2011 and near a return to 2009 levels, which were at 71%.
The increase in on-campus dining seems to contradict the report’s other findings, most notably that only 35% of students say they are satisfied with their school’s foodservice program. Kelly Weikel, a senior consumer research manager at Technomic, says the report’s findings show students are more willing to spend on the food items they want, which creates an opportunity for those foodservice operations that are able to meet those needs.
“The foodservice options on campus are not necessarily meeting all of [students’] needs,” Weikel explains. “I think there is a big opportunity for colleges and universities to ask what their students want, to have more feedback and dialogue in order to meet those needs.”
Weikel says one way many colleges can improve on meeting students’ food needs is by providing a larger variety of menu items. According to the report, the number of students who say they regularly explore new types of food and flavors has increased from 59% in 2011 to 66%.
In addition to menu variety, Weikel says students are looking for more flexibility in the way they can use their meal plans. According to the report, 44% of students say they wished their school had grocery stores where they could use their meal plan in order to shop. “There’s still a big opportunity for college food operators to grab a greater share of their market,” Weikel says. “And a way that they can do that is by meeting some of the needs that are making students go off campus.”