As diners' demands grow evermore complex, so too do the forces shaping what and where (and how) they wish to eat. The editors of FoodService Director and the foodservice pros at Technomic have identified seven trends that will steer the noncommercial industry in the next year. Read on for our predictions.
1. Off-site is the new on-site
Noncommercial dining has never been the first arena to come to mind when delivery food is mentioned—but that sentiment is changing. Delivery and its off-site cousins takeout, grab-and-go, order-ahead and heat-and-eat meal kits are finding a foothold among diners eager to make the experience of eating more convenient. At Dell headquarters in Red Rock, Texas, a 24/7 walk-up coffee kiosk allows customers to order personalized drinks from a touchpad or on their phones; the automated machine remembers past orders, no human interaction required. And at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, a popular hot-bar dish was revamped as a heat-and-eat option that faculty can turn into a quick dinner at home.
2. Plant-based dining for everyone
With sustainability and budgets in mind, operators are now putting plant-based entrees front and center instead of relegating them to a separate vegan or vegetarian station. In college dining and corporate cafes, vegetables and grains are placed at the beginning of the line so customers will load up on plants, while animal proteins are available at the end so those diners who desire meat and dairy can add smaller portions as a “side.” Even K-12 is getting in on the game, with Los Angeles Unified Public Schools testing a completely plant-based meatless menu during the 2017-18 school year.
Also contributing to the trend is the rise of global dishes on menus, including Indian food, which is poised for growth in 2018 and a rich source of inspiration for vegetarian menus. A continuing interest in health- and sustainability-conscious eating among consumers is adding to the proliferation of plant-based dishes as well.
3. Water, water everywhere
Whether it’s for health reasons, rising soda taxes or just the faddishness of a certain canned sparkling water, diners are taking a turn away from sugar-laden soft drinks: Fortune magazine reports 12 straight years of decline in carbonated soft drink sales. To compensate, health-driven alternatives such as housemade infused and spa waters are cropping up on noncommercial menus. Oregon State University in Corvallis, Ore., recently began serving kombucha, while Centerplate’s foodservice venues offer waters flavored on-site with seasonal herbs and fresh produce, such as blueberries with mint and peaches with rosemary.
4. Sit, eat, stay
Perhaps due to the increased popularity of to-go, foodservice redesigns and new construction are moving toward gathering spaces that serve more than one purpose. Curtis Dining Hall at Denison University in Granville, Ohio, includes a lounge area with a fireplace, and the new student union at Clover High School in Clover, S.C., is outfitted with furniture that encourages collaboration between students. “There [are] high-top tables where they can recharge their iPads while they’re working on projects, and sofas and little seating areas where they can work in small groups,” says Superintendent Marc Sosne.
5. Universal free food for a generation?
While free meals have been a recruiting perk at select major companies for some time, universal free lunch is growing at K-12 schools throughout the country as more districts learn about and qualify for the Community Eligibility Provision through the National School Lunch Program. The nation’s largest public district, New York City, just announced universal free lunch through the CEP after the state’s new way of tracking families who are eligible for benefits like Medicaid revealed enough students' families struggled financially.
6. Personalized is the new customized
It’s not just about the Chipotle model of choosing your toppings anymore. Diners want meals that fit their personalized models of health: calories, portion size, price, allergens and more. In Technomic’s 2017 College and University Consumer Trend Report, powered by Ignite, 52% of students said it is important that their school makes nutritional information easily accessible. Washington University at St. Louis’ dining services offers “dine with a dietitian” programming, where students learn about healthy meals during an on-site food prep demonstration.
7. Technology that benefits both diners and operators
Ohio State University Senior Director of Dining Services Zia Ahmed recently told FSD Publisher Bill Anderson that he categorizes technology into two buckets: things that increase efficiency, and things that increase satisfaction. But the real sweet spot is technology that fits into both, with the industrywide increase in online, kiosk and app ordering being just one example. At Yale University, POS data gathered from 16 retail locations and 12 residential dining halls showed that students’ coffee experiences could be improved by adding a self-service kiosk to avoid backlogs during popular times. While the revenue increase was marginal, “It was more about the customer service and convenience,” Adam Millman, Yale’s director of auxiliary and catering operations, told FSD.