Technology & Equipment

What foodservice leaders think about technology's role in the future of college dining

The National Association of College and University Food Services College Dining 2030 and Beyond report revealed insights pertaining to mobile apps, automation and other back-of-house technology.
Food delivery app
Focus group participants discussed the need for mobile apps to align with customer wants. | Photo: Shutterstock

Technology continues to play a key role in college dining, particularly as a solution to labor woes. But it’s more than that. New tech is popping up everywhere and becoming engrained into college foodservice. Concepts like mobile apps are increasingly common at colleges and universities and more advanced technology, like SavorEat’s plant-based robot, are making their college debuts.

Both consumer facing and back-of-house tech are sure to play a role in the future of college dining. But what kind of technology specifically addresses the needs of foodservice operations today? That, was a topic of discussion in the National Association of College and University Food Services (NACUFS) College Dining 2030 and Beyond report.

The research was collected through focus groups consisting of college and university foodservice leaders, as well as foodservice academics, technology experts and facilities design professionals. The focus groups were developed with the goal of understanding the issues facing foodservice providers today. The team also put together an advisory board with foodservice experts such as Zia Ahmed, senior director of dining services at The Ohio State University and Ken Toong, executive director of dining at the University of Massachusetts. 

Here's some takeaways from the technology focus groups.

Mobile apps need to align with the needs of customers

The report highlighted the role of mobile apps both for accessing information as well as ordering, but above all, the mobile app needs to align with the needs of customers as well as ease operational challenges. For instance, the report suggests apps for ordering ahead of time, combined with machine learning to predict demand or the use of geofencing to predict food demand. They also discussed demand for contactless technology.

Contactless tech is becoming more common through concepts like robot delivery. Starship Technologies, supplier of delivery robots, just celebrated five years of service at George Mason University.

When it comes to mobile apps role of providing information, the focus groups discussed personalized marketing to students with features such as a dining calculator to budget their declining balance.

When it comes to BOH tech, consistency and efficiency are key

One issue the participants discussed as it pertains to technology is its role in reducing food waste. The report suggested a need for predictive analytics to identify dining trends in terms of product and timing. Another challenge that could be addressed through tech is a way to capture what was actually taken off of the service line.

Some technology in the market that addresses the issue of food waste is BOH tools such as Compass Group’s Waste Not 2.0 food waste tracking tool.

The focus group also discussed automation and robotics, especially in BOH operations. In the labor focus group, participants discussed the role of robotics in helping solve labor challenges.



More from our partners