2016 C&U Census: What's trending on campus

College and university foodservice operators are facing down a number of shifting factors, from growing interest in local sourcing to a rise in the minimum wage. FoodService Director’s 2016 College and University Census took the pulse of 73 operators nationwide—52% of them self-operated, 41% contract managed and 7% a combination of the two. Here’s what we found. 

Survey snapshot

What is your department responsible for?

  • 18%—Foodservice in the dining hall(s)
  • 10%—Cash operations (c-stores, coffee shops, restaurants, etc.)
  • 73%—Both dining halls and cash operations on campus

What types of meal plan(s) do you offer?

Meals per week/block plan; declining balance; and unlimited/all-you-care to eat 29%
Both meals per week/block plan and unlimited/all you care to eat 16%
Both meals per week/block plan and declining balance 14%
Declining balance only 12%
Unlimited/all you care to eat only 10%
Do not offer a meal plan 7%
Meals per week/block plan only 5%
Both declining balance and unlimited/all you care to eat 4%
Other 3%

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

Average enrollment for Fall 2015: 16,178

Average number of meals served per day in dining halls: 9,368

Meal plan makeup

Nearly all (90%) of the operators in our survey offer some type of meal plan. Most offer a combination of a meals-per-week/block plan, declining balance and unlimited/all-you-care-to eat plan. Three in four operators say that more meal swipes are used than declining balances.

45 percent
On average, slightly less than half of students at the colleges and universities in our survey were on a meal plan in the 2014–2015 and 2015–2016 school years.

66 percent
Percentage of operators that have gone trayless in all of their all-you-care-to-eat dining halls.


The biggest trend: Local sourcing

Local sourcing elbowed out gluten-free this year as the food trend C&U operators in our survey most expect to grow on menus in the next two years.

Use of locally sourced foods 81%
Gluten-free menu items 79%
International menu items 70%
Vegetarian menu items 62%
Vegan menu items 52%
Use of organic foods 29%
None of the above 3%

What they're sourcing

A full 95% of respondents source at least some items locally, with produce leading the pack by far. On average, these colleges and universities are sourcing 24% of their food purchases locally.

Produce 90%
Diary 71%
Baked goods 53%
Meats 49%
Seafood 32%
Other 10%
Not sourcing any products locally 5%

8 percent

8%—Average percentage of food purchases that are organic products, up from 6% in FSD’s 2015 College  and University Census—a trend that’s been climbing steadily in recent years.

Money talks

With federal and local minimum wage hikes rolling through foodservice, noncommercial operators are finding their effects impossible to avoid. 63% of respondents told us that these increases have affected their operations in some way; FSDs in the West were most likely to feel the effects of minimum wage changes, at 92%. Here’s how those changes have played out.

How have local and federal minimum wage increases affected your operation?

We have had to adjust other employees’ wages as well 21%
We are employing more part-time or seasonal workers 18%
We have had to reduce our workforce 14%
We have had to reduce workers’ hours 14%

A change could do you good

In order to keep up with the changing tides of technology, style and ever-choosy student diners, operators are crunching their budgets to make renovations happen. Slightly more than half (52%) of respondents told FSD they are in the midst of planning a renovation, while 26% had completed updates of at least a portion of their facilities within the past year. Here’s where those upgrades are happening. 

Have you added, or are you planning on adding, any of the following formats? (Choose all that apply.)

  Less than 1,000 1,000-4,999 5,000-9,999 10,000-19,999 20,000 or more
Salad bars 25% 22% 30% 17% 27%
Grab-and-go 50% 28% 30% 75% 36%
Single-concept facilities 0% 11% 25% 50% 45%
Action stations 50% 44% 65% 58% 55%
Wood-fired oven station 17% 11% 15% 8% 18%
Coffee bar 25% 22% 30% 42% 18%
Coffee bar 25% 22% 30% 42% 36%
Alcoholic beverage concept 8% 0% 5% 0% 9%
None of the above 42% 39% 10% 25% 18%


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