College dining programs expand all-day offerings and push inclusive menus

Foods that address dietary restrictions, extended operating hours and autonomous tech are on full display as the fall semester gets underway.
Chocolate avocado pudding
Chocolate avocado pudding is a new dish coming to RIT this year. | Photo by Carlos Ortiz / RIT.

With the fall semester in full swing, many college dining programs have big plans for the year. A variety of new concepts are popping up, and many have a focus on inclusive menus, extended operating hours and autonomous tech. Here’s a look at what’s new.

Inclusive dining at Western Michigan

Western Michigan University recently opened a new student center, which is home to new dining options on the first floor and a new dining hall on the third. The building was designed with inclusivity in mind with features such as a wheelchair lift, prayer rooms and commuter areas.

The theme of inclusivity also transfers to the new menu. One new concept, Hand Picked, offers gluten-free bread alternatives. A new deli will also feature a gluten-free panini press.

According to Emily Mitchell, nutrition specialist at Western Michigan, the new gluten-free offerings are meant to complement the order-ahead program the university offers for students who require dietary accommodations.

While Mitchell noted that the university has done a good job of offering allergen-free items, the program does require students to order food in advance, which can be a barrier for some diners.

“This is much more kind of inviting to do that here with things that you get from Hand Picked. You just walk in. You don't have to see the dietitian,” said Andrew Francisco, associate director of culinary operations at the school. “You just go sit and enjoy your food with your friends, and you're not treated differently.”

Other new concepts include a comfort-food station called Classics, a salad bar dubbed The Garden and contemporary grill Fireside. Coming soon is an international spot called Global Fusion, where team members will collaborate with student groups to create authentic global recipes.

Western Michigan University's new student center. The new student center offers a variety of dining options. | Photo courtesy of Western Michigan University

“While we're scaled down right now, once we're fully open, we're really hoping to kind of embody inclusion through authenticity with global recipes and collaborating, specifically, with student groups,” said Mitchell.

Student feedback guides changes at RIT

More plant-based options and a kosher deli are among the new offerings at Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) this year. 

Donald LaFlam, executive director of dining at the New York campus, said most of the new features were sparked by student feedback. “I personally spend a lot of time meeting with students at the university to get feedback on how we can improve our program to better suit their needs,” he said.

One student request was more 24/7 options. As a result, two dining halls will feature self-checkout micro-markets with a variety of items, including snacks, grab-and-go meals and frozen entrees.

“We realize that students, their day doesn't end at four o'clock as academics end and their day doesn't even end at midnight when our convenience stores close,” LaFlam said. “So, these were a way that we could provide them with more fresh and frozen entrees and things that they can heat up or take back to the classroom and enjoy when they're working on their projects.”

In an effort to improve accessibility, kiosks and service screens that display an order name and number when it's ready have been installed at four concepts.

Kiosks at RIT. Kiosks have been added to a few concepts across campus. | Photo by Carlos Ortiz / RIT. 

“It's been an ask for a while as how do we improve our accessibility. So, the implementation of the kiosk ordering and the order-ready screens across campus, those were our first stab at making it a better experience for those students,” said LaFlam.  

Earlier this year, the university made a commitment to have 50% of its entrees be plant-based by the end of 2025, and diners may notice more plant-based options, such as a chocolate avocado pudding, on offer this year. In addition, the team is working with students to develop some of the new recipes.

“We're letting them try some of the dishes that we're creating, and getting their feedback and then building those menus around their suggestions so that they know that they have input in what they're eating,” said LaFlam.

Another dining spot, Gracie’s, has transitioned to an all-you-care-to-eat format and now offers more vegan entrees. The Global Grille Station is also offering a Mediterranean bar, which will rotate monthly with Indian offerings and an Asian noodle bar.

In another effort to improve inclusivity, RIT is also launching a kosher-certified deli called Loaded Latke. The new concept is RIT’s first kosher supervised dining option. It will serve handcrafted sandwiches and Jewish comfort food including matzo ball soup, potato salad and latkes.

A new food truck is also coming to campus, serving up six different burgers. The truck will be offered during the university’s food truck festivals on Fridays.

Extended hours at a University of Nevada campus

The University of Nevada at Reno has several upgrades coming to its dining program this semester, with a focus on expanding access to food throughout the day and night. These upgrades include longer hours, all-day breakfast and the introduction of international meal concepts and grab-and-go vending units.

The university welcomes three new concepts this semester—Mongolian Grill, BRKFT & Co. and Grab Goodness, a grab-and-go concept featuring fresh food made in house. Three other concepts are also getting a menu refresh.

These changes were made largely in response to student feedback, according to a statement.

“We’re inspired by the passion our students and campus community have for the university’s dining program. They spoke, we listened, and we’ve made upgrades, big and small, that we think will create a much-improved dining experience for students,” said, Gabe Lewis, resident district manager for Chartwells Higher Ed, which runs foodservice at the university.

Suffolk leans into new tech

Suffolk University in Boston is also expanding 24/7 options this semester, with the help of some new technology. The university has launched four new automated dining concepts—Farmer’s Fridge, Costa Coffee, Pepsi Snack Vending and Smart Market. Suffolk University has also introduced an Absurd Bird unit and a Tu Taco location on campus.

In addition, the university is revamping some breakfast options at three campus cafes, and it's launched a new mobile-ordering app called Boost.

Fac Shack at Columbia

Columbia University in New York City has debuted a new food truck for the 2023-24 academic year. The Fac Shack will offer a grab-and-go lunch option for busy diners. It menus global street food with a gourmet twist.

Vanderbilt offers new items

Vanderbilt University has a number of changes coming to its campus this year, including an array of new menu items and dining concepts. Among the concepts coming soon: a weekday breakfast pizza bar, Dim Sum weekend brunch, a street taco concept and an arepa station. The Nashville university is also launching a customizable fried rice station dubbed Rice, Rice, Baby and another global eats concept offering savory Asian pancakes.

Editor's Note: This story has been updated to correct some details about WMU's Classics and Hand Picked concepts.



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