2017 C&U Census: Diners' choice

College students sound off on sourcing, allergens, meal plans and more.

Where they're eating

Today, more students are taking their college foodservice meals to go instead of eating them on campus. Nearly half (46%) of students are eating to-go meals, while 37% still eat in the dining hall and 17% are taking advantage of new technology to have their meals delivered.

  • 39%—The percentage of meals students ate on campus was unchanged from 2015 to 2016, at 39%. Students are especially likely to eat off campus during the weekend, driven by the 65% who live off campus.

On-campus chains rule

While school cafeterias or dining halls remained the most popular place for students to eat on campus, the growth of chain restaurants on campus is driving many student diners—more, in fact, than most nonchain concepts.

Percentage of students who visit on-campus restaurants at least once

  • 56%—School cafeteria/dining hall
  • 50%—Coffee/beverage chain
  • 44%—Fast-food chain
  • 43%—Fast-casual chain
  • 41%—C-store/mini mart
  • 41%—Grab-and-go snack cart or kiosk
  • 39%—Coffee/beverage concept not part of a chain
  • 37%—Vending machine
  • 34%—LSR not part of a chain

69%—Students’ top reason for purchasing food and beverage on campus was convenience. Just 14% said better food and beverage variety compared to off-campus offerings was a driving factor. 


What they'd change

Overall, 35% of students say they are satisfied with their school’s foodservice facilities, and 34% say the school does a good job ensuring students are pleased with the dining program—both down from 2015. Here’s what students are looking for from dining services, from the meals themselves to the way they’re purchased, that would help keep them on campus.

Drivers for meal purches on campus: Menu attributes

campus meal purchases

Make mine custom

Students say made-to-order stations (prepared by a chef) and build-your-own meal stations (prepared by students themselves) are the most appealing concept attributes for on-campus restaurants and dining halls, at 65% each, respectively. Other favored attributes include:

  • 57%—Environmentally friendly takeout packaging
  • 53%—Reusable takeout containers
  • 51%—Special events in restaurants/dining halls
  • 50%—Themed food days

63%—Students name low prices as the most important concept attribute for all food purchases, whether on or off campus, at 63%. Convenient location, speedy/friendly service, and late-night operating hours round out the top five.

52%—The percentage of students who say they would like their campus foodservice to stay open later.

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