If there is one thing the foodservice industry needs to know about college and university students it’s this: they are a demanding, yet shifty, bunch. They have high foodservice expectations and a lot of choices available to meet their needs. They use foodservice for many different occasions and their preferences can vary widely from one visit to the next.
To appeal to this group, we’d do well to follow some advice we might also give students: anything worth doing, is worth doing right. And it is worth doing. Many students are heavily reliant on foodservice: 54 percent use on-campus foodservice at least twice each week, and 22 percent do so daily. On top of that, 35 percent make at least two off-campus restaurant visits per week.
Frequent on-campus visits are occurring despite the fact that just 35 percent of students are highly satisfied with their school’s on-campus dining options. This finding, coupled with the fact that the highest dissatisfaction exists among those who visit on-campus foodservice least often, signals an opportunity to boost traffic by better meeting students’ needs.
While these needs definitely extend beyond just the food and beverage offered, an effective on- or off-campus strategy to attract student diners must start with the menu. Our recent College & University Consumer Trend Report provides some helpful pointers:
Let Students Be in Control: Customization is becomingly increasingly important to students. Fifty-three percent now say it is highly important that they are able to omit or substitute ingredients and 50 percent now strongly prefer to add sauces, seasonings or other flavorings to their meal themselves.
Help Student Balance the Healthy and the Indulgent: Just 31 percent of students say their school does a good job offering options they consider healthy while 41 percent say it is highly important that healthy options are offered. Nevertheless, students still gravitate toward favorites like pizza, burgers, sandwiches and pasta.
Give Students Plenty of Options to Fit Special Diets: Nearly two in five students (38 percent) avoid some type of animal product and 29 percent say they are more likely to purchase gluten-free options.
Offer Unique Options AND Traditional Comfort Food Staples: More of today’s students like to experiment with new foods and flavors, but this hasn’t decreased their interest in tried and true favorites.
Although addressing student needs is complex, an effective foodservice strategy should start with a focus on two areas: variety and control. Students demand a wide variety of options to meet their specific and unique needs, but also the freedom and flexibility to do so.