2015 C&U Census: Higher learning

College and university dining operations are looking local—and increasingly gluten-free. FoodService Director’s 2015 College and University Census polled 167 operators nationwide on their biggest trends. Here are the facts about our respondents.

  • 72% of students are residents at colleges with fewer than 2,000 enrollees.
  • 76% of students are commuters at colleges with more than 30,000 enrollees.
  • 84% of locations that serve an average 20,000 or more daily meals in the dining halls are self-operated.
  • 53% of those serving fewer than 20,000 meals are self-operated.
  • Average enrollment for the fall of 2014 was 14,581, up slightly from 2013 enrollment of 14,415.
  • 56% of students are commuters, 44% are residents.
  • 57% of college and university dining operations are self-operated, 39% are contract managed, 4% are partly self-operated and partly contract managed.

Sticking with the meal plan

The percent of students on a meal plan remained constant between the 2013-2014 and 2014-2015 school years (47 percent vs. 48 percent, respectively). As enrollment increases, the percentage of students on a meal plan decreases. 

  • $2.90—The average food cost for lunch in the dining halls, up from $2.83 in 2014.
Fewer than 2,000 students77%
2,000-9,999 students58%
10,000-29,999 students36%
30,000 or more students25%

The bigger the school, the greater the variety of meal plans offered

The majority of colleges (95 percent) offer some type of meal plan. Twenty-one percent of colleges that serve less than 2,000 students per day do not offer a meal plan, while all who serve 2,000 or more students daily—with the exception of one—offer some sort of plan. At those with both declining balance and meal swipes (meals per week/block plans, unlimited plans), the majority—76 percent—say more meal swipes are used than declining balance.

 AverageFewer than 2,000 students2,000-9,999 students10,000-29,999 students30,000 or more students
Both meals per week/block plan and declining balance21%31%19%23%12%
Declining balance only20%23%22%15%19%
Meals per week/block plan, declining balance and unlimited/all you can eat20%23%2-%23%12%
Meals per week/block plan and unlimited/all you can eat15%4%15%17%23%
Unlimited/all you can eat only8%8%9%5%15%
Both declining balance and unlimited/all you can eat7%0%6%8%15%
Meals per week/block plan only4%8%2%3%4%
Do not offer a meal plan5%4%7%5%0%

Percentages may add up to more than 100 due to rounding.

Colleges like their carrots (and other produce) local

Overall, 94 percent of colleges buy some of their food products locally. Produce remains the item that’s most likely to come from a local source, followed closely this year by dairy products. Colleges with annual food and beverage purchases of $1 million or more are significantly more likely than their smaller counterparts to source some products locally (97 percent vs. 77 percent, respectively). The average amount of locally sourced food purchases is 20 percent. 

Baked goods57%
Meats 55%
We are not sourcing any products locally6%

Gluten-free keeps growing, and growing, and growing ...

As in 2014, the majority of operators report that gluten-free items will increase on their menus in the  next two years, as will locally sourced foods.

  • 6%—The average percentage of food purchases that are organic, up slightly from 5 percent in 2014; the number is consistently growing—4 percent of purchases were organic in 2013.
Gluten-free menu items87%
Use of locally sourced foods80%
Vegetarian menu items52%
Vegan menu items50%
Use of organic foods35%
None of the above2%

Dining services moonlight as a catering service

catering service infographic

Restaurants stealing their business? Campus operators aren't worried

The majority of college and university operators (87 percent) say restaurants located off campus are only a minor threat or no threat to their business. However, operators at locations with 30,000 or more students are significantly more likely than those with smaller enrollments to report these locations are a major threat to their business (31 percent vs. 9 percent, respectively). 

  • 13% big threat to business
  • 49% a minor threat to my business
  • 38% not a threat to my business

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