College dining breaks through stereotypes

For FoodService Director’s 30th birthday, C&U frontrunners take a stroll down memory lane—and reveal what they believe the future holds.

At the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, Mass., students simply aren’t eating instant ramen noodles anymore. 

“They want it fresh,” says Ken Toong, executive director of auxiliary enterprises for the school. “There has to be a fresh noodle, and they also want a little meat, maybe some pork belly, things like that.” 

Toong says the stereotypical college dishes, such as instant ramen and cold cereal, don’t cut it with discerning student diners anymore.

“Those days are gone. This is the [students’] home for 35 weeks,” he says. “They want us to give them the best; they want variety.”

At dining halls today, students have an array of stations available to them, each serving a different cuisine. Instead of walking through a buffet line and filling their plates, students now visit multiple stations, grabbing smaller portions of a variety of foods, many with a global influence.

And not only do they care more about the food itself, but they also care about the story behind it.

“Students are very involved with social responsibility and welfare. They really want to support local and regional food systems,” Toong says.

One program designed to fulfill a current need—the UMass Fresh program—could also have a lot of upside in the future. Today, students and faculty can grab premade meals to take home, or for $10, receive two portions of a scratch-made meal that they can pick up on campus and reheat when they get home. In the future, Toong believes the program will evolve into something more delivery-focused.

“I think someday a student will be able to have food from a dining hall delivered directly to their resident hall. We think it’s coming. We’re testing it now, and we’re also testing apps for them to order ahead. I think e-commerce is really changing our segment,” he says.


See what K-12 and senior living operators had to say when looking back over the last 30 years. 

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