5 trends rising on college campuses

college students eating

From Ovention.

Today’s colleges and universities know they should offer more than a large selection of breakfast cereals in the morning and chicken tenders at lunch to appeal to students. When it comes to what’s trending on campuses, here’s a look at what directors can tune into to boost engagement.

1. Expanded dining hours

Late-night options have long been a popular fixture on college campuses, but if it’s too late, students often choose to venture to off-campus retailers to satisfy their cravings. According to Technomic’s 2017 College & University Consumer Trend Report, powered by Ignite, 63% of students say they are more likely to purchase a late dinner (after 8 p.m.) off-campus, and 61% say the same about a late-night snack (after 10 p.m.). To keep dining dollars on campus, college dining programs should consider expanding their hours. 

2. Faster speed of service

Students are often jetting between activities and classes with only a few minutes to spare here and there for meals. To ensure diners have options that work for their schedules, campus dining halls should have a good selection of grab-and-go items, but they can also use quick-cooking ovens to decrease prep time for some foods. For instance, some ovens boast high-yield capacity and high-efficiency output, so foods can cook or bake in mere seconds, giving consumers fresh, hot meals that they can eat quickly or take to go. 

3. Customization

With specialized or restricted diets and other dietary preferences, diners everywhere are interested in options that they can customize to their heart’s desire. In the Technomic report, 48% of consumers say they prefer interactive service lines that allow them to choose their ingredients in a meal, so it’s key to have an on-campus program that caters to customization preferences. Salads, bowl meals, sandwiches and pizza are all great dishes for incorporating customization.

4. Ethnic foods

According to the Technomic report, 43% of students say they would like their school to offer more ethnic foods and beverages, with Chinese (62%), Italian (55%) and Spanish (45%) being the leading cuisines requested. Also, 42% of students say they would be likely to order international street foods at least occasionally if those foods were available. Interest in bold and spicy flavors is growing, and schools can add ethnic-flavored add-ons, sauces and condiments, such as Sriracha or kimchi, to allow diners to customize their foods.

5. Environmentally friendly practices

Beyond the actual food, a noted trend on college campuses is that directors are adopting more eco-friendly processes and using more efficient equipment. According to the Technomic report, 94% of operators say they are either actively engaged in waste reduction or are planning to address it in the future, and 85% say the same about environmentally friendly takeout packaging. Operators looking to work on energy initiatives can also consider upgrading equipment to models that use less energy or ones that can cook more food in a shorter amount of time.

Dining programs on campuses must satisfy a lot of different preferences. To increase success and participation, operators can take these five trends into account when planning their upcoming year. 

More From FoodService Director

Ideas and Innovation
food snap

We started a 50-member vegan team in response to students expressing the need for more vegan options. Between our monthly meetings, students are asked to take photos of foods they eat in and out of the dining halls to give us a true picture of the kinds of things they like and the kinds of foods that cause disappointment. This exercise has sparked a lot of conversation and given us more insight into what we could do better.

Ideas and Innovation
hybrid worker

Some of our employees can work four 10-hour days. It’s really helped with balance. We’ve also created a lot of hybrid positions, such as a personal services assistant and foodservice worker role. It allows workers to pick up more shifts and cover both positions.

Ideas and Innovation
cheeseburger

We set up an interactive collaboration with our dietetics department where students worked with our culinary team to test how recipes are imagined and produced. One of the recipes they came up with was a barbecue tempeh sandwich, which they believed was a great option for vegan students across campus. We added the sandwich to our On the Go program and then expanded it to our vegan station on campus due to its success.

Ideas and Innovation
salad bowl

We have reorganized our salad bars to not only include the traditional DIY salad ingredients, but also several daily entree salads. Our students requested 32-ounce heavy glass salad bowls that have been wildly popular. The big bowls allow students to load up on their favorite salads and customize with additional ingredients from around the servery. We have seen a significant surge in usage that cuts across all groups, including athletes.

FSD Resources