3 on-trend tips for boosting student meal plan participation

college students meals

From Land O’Lakes.

It’s no secret that college students live their lives at a nonstop pace, juggling classes, homework, extracurricular activities and busy social lives as they sprint through their days. They fit meals around demanding schedules and often eat on the run—snacking isn’t so much a habit as it is a way of life.

The challenge is to keep these student customers on campus when they’re hungry, and that can be done by offering convenient, craveable foods that suit any mood and timeframe and match any dining occasion. In many cases, traditional three-meal foodservice plans are being replaced by more versatile concepts that adapt to students’ hectic schedules.

Offer additional variety

To address variety, operators should treat every daypart—including snacks—as an opportunity to create signature items that off-campus competitors don’t have. In fact, 38% of students say that more grab-and-go products being made available would encourage them to stay on-campus for snacks, according to Technomic’s 2017 College & University report. To build snacking and other convenience-oriented sales, develop grab-and-go selections such as salads, sandwiches, soups, and snack foods that can be sold at high-traffic locations around campus, without the need for on-time prep.

At breakfast, menu distinctive handhelds that are designed for eating on the run but are still unique.  Put the ever-popular egg-and-cheese sandwich on a freshly made biscuit or a crisp waffle, and ramp up the flavor with an interesting condiment, such as kimchi aioli.

And because customers don’t always eat breakfast during traditional hours, operators can consider offering versatile items such as grain bowls, specialty baked goods, and hearty egg dishes (such as frittatas, quiche or omelets) that can be served throughout the day.

Allow for maximum customization

Customizable menu platforms mean more variety, since patrons can try different combinations of flavorful ingredients. According to Technomic’s College & University report, 40% of students say that the main reason they go off-campus to eat is for a better variety of food and beverages. To combat this, develop a rotation of build-your-own meal options, such as:

  • Oatmeal and porridge bars.
  • Asian noodles and noodle soups.
  • Tacos, burritos and quesadillas where diners can choose their fillings and toppings.
  • Salad bars enhanced with prepared salads, such as broccoli-and-feta slaw and tuna salad.

Topping and condiment bars are another relatively easy way to allow customers to build their own flavor experience, from cheese sauce to a selection of spicy garnishes and global condiments. These items all make food taste better and more flavorful, and 41% of students say that food that tastes better would encourage them to purchase more meals on campus, according to Technomic’s College & University report.  Toppings and condiment offerings can be tailored for popular menu items, like shredded lettuce, sliced tomatoes and pickled red onions for sandwiches and burgers or sriracha and Thai peanut sauce for Asian entrees, just to name a few.

Plan special events

Build excitement and keep customers coming back for more with special events like Fondue Night, trivia contests, sports-and-wings in the student union, Breakfast at Dinner or a backyard barbecue with hot dogs and cheeseburgers. Get the staff involved in coming up with ideas, which helps keep them challenged.

Many college foodservice operators are hosting local brands or food trucks on campus to create another alternative for students looking for something a little different. This also represents a great way to introduce authentic global concepts, which can be challenging for some kitchens.

Keeping diners on campus doesn’t have to be a difficult ordeal. By offering students more of what they want—tasty foods, grab-and-go options that accommodate their busy schedules and unique food offerings—operators will be able to entice more diners to use their dollars on campus.

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