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.