As college dining sets its sights toward the future, evolving diner preferences and new technology are changing how things look in the front and back of house.
One-third of respondents to FSD’s survey say tech is currently the biggest dining trend at colleges.
Many have introduced or expanded mobile ordering and self-checkout on campus over the past year. At Boston College in Newton, Mass., and Texas State University in San Marcos, pickup lockers have also been added.
At Tully’s Cafe, a new, science-themed concept at Boston College, mobile ordering and self-serve kiosks are also part of the mix. And adding those sorts of technology has been key to staying on pace with dining concepts off campus, Director of Dining Services Beth Emery told FSD earlier this year. “We're always benchmarking with what's out there in the community, and if you go down near Fenway Park, all of the casual quick-serves had these kiosks,” she said.
Cashierless concepts are also making waves on campus. Chartwells Higher Ed has plans to open 100 such concepts across the country in partnership with artificial intelligence company Standard AI.
The two parties previously worked together to launch Market Next, an autonomous store on the University of Houston’s campus, as well as to turn Ginger Market at San Diego State into a cashierless concept.
“The shift toward autonomous shopping that’s happening today at university campuses will fuel broader expansion of this technology into our neighborhoods and communities,” Christopher Burr, vice president of digital strategy at Chartwells Higher Ed, said in a statement. “Waiting in line is quickly becoming a relic of the past.
At Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., the dining team implemented a new espresso machine that can make 15 different beverages for customers, while the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls introduced an automatic pancake machine last school year.
At Northwood University in Midland, Mich., Director of Dining Services Eric Barker says that the surge in popularity of grab-and-go will have lasting effects for how the school’s dining facilities will be designed.
“COVID has shown us that a large group of our customers do not want to sit in dining rooms, they want to take their food and go,” he says. “We already had a reusable to-go program for our dining locations, but this trend has led to roughly 55% of our meals being eating in a to-go fashion. This will lead to changes in how we design new facilities or remodel older facilities.”