2014 C&U Census: Meal plan participation remains static

Gluten-free menu items to increase and a look at local sourcing also included in the 2014 College and University Census.
  • Our 2014 C&U Census included respondents from 155 colleges across the nation, with varying sizes of enrollment and annual food and beverage purchases.
  • 60% are self-operated, 36% are contract-managed and 4% are partly self-operated and partly contract-managed. Locations that serve an average of 20,000 or more meals a day in the dining halls are significantly more likely to be self-operated than those that serve fewer than 10,000 meals (85% versus 49%, respectively).
  • The average enrollment for the fall of 2013 was 16,180, up slightly from 2012’s enrollment of 15,922.
  • 55% of students commute and 45% live on campus. As enrollment increases, so does the percentage of students that commute. At colleges with fewer than 2,000 students, 73% are residents, while at colleges with 30,000 or more students, 72% are commuters. 

Commercial Threat
Most operators (90%) say commercial dining establishments located off campus are only a minor or no threat to their business. Operators at locations with 30,000 or more students are significantly more likely than those with smaller enrollments to report these locations as a major threat to their business (28% versus 5%, respectively). 

Meal Plan Enrollment Remains Static
The percentage of students on a meal plan remained constant between 2012 and 2013 (50% versus 51%, respectively). As enrollment increases, the percentage of students on a meal plan decreases. 

Meal Plans Offered   
The great majority of colleges (91%) offer some type of meal plan. Twelve percent of colleges that serve less than 10,000 meals per day do not offer any type of meal plan, while all of those that serve 10,000 or more meals per day offer some sort of meal plan. Colleges that serve an average of 20,000 or more meals in the dining halls each day are significantly more likely to offer declining balance only meal plans than those that serve fewer meals per day (38% versus 12%, respectively). For those operations that offer both declining balance and meal swipes (meals per week/block plans and unlimited), the majority of respondents—79%—say students use more meal swipes than declining balance.

$2.83
The average food cost for lunch in the dining halls. 

Gluten Free to Grow
The majority of operators report that the number of gluten-free items on their menus will increase in the next two years. Locations that serve more than an average of 2,000 meals a day in their dining halls are significantly more likely than those locations that serve fewer than 2,000 meals per day to expect this trend to increase (91% versus 62%, respectively). 

Produce Still Most Likely Item to be Sourced Locally
Overall, 92% of colleges purchase some of their food products locally. Once again, produce is the item operators are most likely to purchase from local sources. Colleges with smaller enrollments (fewer than 10,000 students) are more likely not to source any products locally than those with more students (15% versus 4%, respectively). The average amount of locally sourced food purchases is 18%. 

Five
The average percentage of food purchases that are organic. 

Dining Services’ Scope
Once again, catering and summer camps are the two auxiliary services that are most often available on campus with foodservice and managed by the foodservice department.  

Majority of Operators Use Trayless Dining in All-you-care-to-eat Dining Halls
For operators that have all-you-care-to-eat dining halls (76%), the majority (83%) offer trayless dining for at least some of those dining halls. Universities with larger enrollments (10,000 or more students) are significantly more likely to offer all-you-care-to-eat dininghalls than universities with smaller enrollment (86% versus 64%, respectively).

Locations that have less than 34% of students on a meal plan are significantly more likely to have removed trays from every all-you-care-to-eat dining hall than those locations with more than 66% of students on a meal plan (80% versus 53%, respectively).

Colleges with an average of fewer than 2,000 meals served a day in the dining halls are significantly more likely to have stopped using trayless dining (14%); no colleges with more than 2,000 meals served per day have stopped using trays. These locations are also the most likely to not offer all-you-care-to-eat dining halls (38%). For those locations that do not use trayless dining, the top selected reasons for keeping the trays are a lack of adequate dish return space and customer convenience, both at 41%. 

The use of trayless dining at those universities that have all-you-care-to-eat dining halls: 
 

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