Boston College: Building engagement with all-day dining options

boston college acai bowl

From Dannon Foodservice.

Catering to the go-go-go lifestyle of university students is a challenge, and it’s one that Boston College dining representatives wrestle with daily.

“Students don’t just want to eat dinner between 5 and 7 p.m.,” says Beth Emery, the school’s director of dining. “They may want to eat dinner at 9 o’clock. We’ve been trying to come up with creative solutions.”

Those creative solutions include everything from offering breakfast items throughout the day to providing healthier late-night choices to trolling social media for trendy new menu ideas.

Boston College, which has some 14,000 students, serves about 21,000 meals each day an on all-retail, pay-as-you-go basis. The school has three main dining halls, some of which are open until 2 a.m., and multiple smaller foodservice locations around campus.

One of the school’s most-popular menu items recently has been acai bowls, which are sold for breakfast as well as lunch. “There are lines out the door for it,” Emery says. “It’s a very popular station.”

The bowls feature yogurt, acai powder, frozen berries and an assortment of toppings including sliced and dried fruits, granola, pumpkin seeds and more.

Similarly, Boston College offers avocado toast at breakfast and also during the dinner daypart. Customizable yogurt stations with a rotating assortment of toppings including nuts, seeds, coconut, honey and fruit are sold throughout the day as well.

Both avocado toast and acai bowls are Instagram darlings. Emery and her staff regularly search the social media platform for inspiration.

“You get some of your best ideas from looking at the photos,” she says, adding that the school now serves avocado halves with customizable fillings, an idea borrowed from Instagram.

She also encourages her staff to pay regular visits to local restaurants and retailers to see where and what students are eating. An upcoming management team meeting will be held at the new Eataly outpost in Boston, and she expects each team member to come up with a new foodservice idea during their time there.

“We’re constantly trying to get out into the marketplace,” Emery says. “We look at local dining places and our competition and we try to stay on top of it.”

Following food-safety guidelines, the school works hard to repurpose ingredients for use throughout all-day dining. Dinner leftovers might get new life on the late-night menu. Unfinished oatmeal from breakfast gets used in grab-and-go oatmeal-quinoa parfaits.

For late-night studiers, the college has added healthier grab-and-go options such as yogurt parfaits with granola and berries, overnight oats with fruit toppings and snack platters with cheese and crackers or Mediterranean items such as hummus, pita and stuffed grape leaves.

Grab-and-go items are made more appealing with eye-catching labels and packaging. Newly installed digital signage also helps promote new items, as does social media outreach.

The school also has a dining advisory board of student representatives who offer foodservice suggestions.

Meet the nonstop dining needs of today’s busy college students with craveable meals and snacks that function across all dayparts. Healthy grab-and-go snacks such as yogurt parfaits and customizable dishes such as DIY bowls are successful from breakfast to late night, boosting both consumer engagement and profits.

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