College and university foodservice directors have their own unique strengths and challenges. But, as with other operators across the industry, they can benefit from the good ideas and best practices of those outside their competitive set. With that in mind, we executed our annual State of Foodservice study, in partnership with FSD’s sister publications covering restaurants and retail operations, as well as Technomic, the research arm of our parent company Winsight. Here are the opportunities and challenges we uncovered when it comes to menu trends, operations and business expectations.
State of the C&U operator
College and university operators are generally optimistic about the future of their operations, but less so than other noncommercial operators, including hospitals and business and industry.
C&U operators in our survey reported seeing the greatest opportunity for growth in catering (63%), mobile ordering (40%) and delivery (35%), as more and more look to partnerships with third-party delivery services to alleviate long waits and labor strains.
More from C&U operators
Biggest legislative issues: Minimum wage (58%) and menu labeling (54%)
Biggest competition: Fast casuals and quick-service restaurants
Hot opportunity No. 1: Lunch
Judging by the recent activity of fast-food restaurants, breakfast and snacks appear to be the trendy dayparts. But college and university operators don’t necessarily agree. Most named lunch as the daypart with the highest sales growth potential in the next year.
Few respondents overall expected growth in snacking, but 26% of C&U operators predicted growth in late-night snacks in particular.
Hot opportunity No. 2: Sandwiches
Sandwiches, soups and salads are among the menu mainstays across the foodservice industry, and operators in all segments see additional opportunity in these areas.
Sandwiches in particular were the menu category with the highest sales growth potential among college and university operators.
Hot opportunity No. 3: Catering
Nearly half (42%) of college and university foodservice operators rated catering as having high or extremely high new business-building potential. Catering beat out other opportunities, including delivery, mobile ordering and daypart expansion in C&U operators’ eyes.
Business builder No. 1: Use tech to speed line, save labor
Looking across foodservice segments, these are some of the ways operators are grabbing hold of opportunities to build sales and engagement—including ideas C&U operators may want to steal.
Wendy’s recently announced it is expanding its rollout of self-ordering kiosks, like the ones in place at Ohio State University. Kiosks can not only speed service, but also help defray labor costs.
To reduce student wait times in dining halls, Washington University in St. Louis has launched an app that allows students to order food from their phones and pick it up from three campus dining locations. They can pay using their mealplan funds, or a debit or credit card.
Business builder No. 2: Test new takeout formats
With the interest in catering, some schools may take inspiration from a new offering at Dickey’s Barbecue Pit. The restaurant chain is testing batch meals that straddle takeout and catering. Meals for a group are available in three sizes, the smallest serving two to four people with a pound of meat, two sides and four rolls; the largest feeds six to eight.
Business builder No. 3: Blur dayparts
While lunch is the time where C&U operators say they see the most growth potential, they shouldn’t overlook the in-between hours.
Data from Technomic shows that 27% of college consumers say that extended foodservice hours would encourage them to purchase their school’s meal plans.