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85% of returning college students wary of ordering food on campus amid COVID-19: Survey

New data from software provider Nutrislice indicates that foodservice programs may have an uphill climb when it comes to diner perceptions once in-person classes resume.
Photograph: Shutterstock

As a clear picture of how the coronavirus outbreak will evolve in the coming months remains elusive, colleges across the country are working to craft a variety of contingency plans around when and how to reopen their campuses.

Boston University recently received attention for noting that it may not bring back in-person classes until January 2021 if deemed necessary, and Indiana University has shared five distinct scenarios for campus reopening, the most extreme of which would see classes held remotely for the entire 2020-2021 school year.

As foodservice operators in particular consider how best to operate come fall, no doubt a foundation of their plans is ensuring the safest possible dining experience for students. However, they may find some students are reluctant to take part in on-campus dining, according to the results of a recent survey by software provider Nutrislice, which found that a large portion of students (85%) are at least somewhat concerned about the safety of ordering food when they return to campus.

Furthermore, 29% percent of those students said they would avoid on-campus eateries that did not have contactless ordering and payment, while just under 50% said they would be more likely to visit locations that offer such amenities.

“As an industry, we have a lot of work ahead of us to convince students that college cafeterias and cafes are safe. If we don’t, fewer students will dine on campus, which will have a dramatic impact on the bottom line when schools reopen,” Michael Craig, chief evangelist for Nutrislice, said in a statement. “This study proves that contactless ordering, pickup, delivery and payment options will be a key requirement to not only prepare for this new normal, but [to] succeed and thrive in it.” 

When asked what they’d be willing to sacrifice in order to have safer ordering and payment options, students surveyed indicated that, out of four attributes, menu variety is what they would be most apt to part with, while speed of service is what they’d like to see affected least.

Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, colleges across the country had been answering customers’ call for more convenient foodservice with a variety of contactless technologies, including cashierless stations and c-stores, app ordering and delivery robots.

Nutrislice surveyed 800 college students for its report.

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