Higher education institutions are experiencing flat enrollments and rising costs, which creates a new onslaught of financial pressures. Just as brands are competing for top talent, institutions are competing for new students. But there’s an area where leading foodservice companies can help.
Students desire transformative dining spaces where they can relax, recharge, refuel and socialize all in one place. This happens when campuses build dining experiences with the lifestyle of their modern students in mind. This strategy and effort turn residential dining into a recruiting tool and improves student satisfaction.
To do so, think beyond the traditional café setting to include a variety of food stations, such as grills and breakfast bars. Students feel most comfortable when dining venues feel “homey.” A few key touches can seem more like a living room, such as comfortable seating, natural lighting and areas to unplug. Let students lean back and put their feet up while they grab a bite and catch up with friends.
Students are drawn to food brands they know and love. This includes popular national brands, but also beloved local brands that provide a taste of home. For example, Chickie & Pete’s is a hometown favorite in Philadelphia and will be a huge attraction for students in that region. Campuses can upgrade their retail dining by adding food trucks and convenience stores to make it easy for students to find their favorite foods any time of day and anywhere on campus.
Since convenience is essential to the student dining experience, retail options can be improved with advanced technological features such as self-checkout kiosks that allow them to interact with a touch screen display to quickly and easily view menu options, including photos and descriptions of each item.
Strategic meal plan sales programs with advanced tools and tactics contribute to higher meal plan sales. One proven meal plan strategy revolves around a “365 Days of Selling” program. This goes beyond simply selling meal plans at student orientation — it includes launching marketing tactics year-round. Season-specific marketing tactics include, for example, peer-to-peer marketing in the spring, parent marketing in the summer, targeted promotions to on-campus and off-campus students in the fall, and social media campaigns year-round.
Students today expect more personalized sales processes, so the best foodservice providers have implemented peer-to-peer sales programs that add familiar, human faces to the sales process.
Ambassadors engage with other students to introduce the dining programs, answer questions about meal plans — perhaps even provide a quiz on a handheld tablet to determine the best meal plan for each student — and get real-time feedback, all in an effort to provide a better purchase experience.
For today’s students, checking social media channels isn’t just an occasional pastime. So it makes sense students want campus dining promotions and deals conveyed to them through social media. Higher education institutions need to use these channels to market their meal plan programs.
Students and staff seek quick, easy access to grab a drink, snack, salad or sandwich between classes, and c-stores provide the opportunity to grab fresh and ready-to-eat items at all hours of the day. Since most students skip a meal for a snack at least once per week, having access to the items they crave helps them power through each hectic day without missing a beat.
Sustainability is top of mind for organizations around the world. To help campuses achieve sustainability that meets the demands of today’s students, they are launching innovative sustainability programs. Through sustainable sourcing and innovative menus, these dining programs are reducing their carbon footprint, while serving healthy meals that preserve natural habitats — enabling everyone to live on a healthier planet for generations to come.
A growing number of universities and colleges are launching commitments to partnering with local, small and diverse suppliers for ethical sourcing of a wide variety of food products — from meat to eggs to seafood. The best sourcing practices include humanely raised proteins, sustainable seafood, no deforestation, fair trade and climate-friendly menu offerings. This achieves several goals, including driving local economic impact, building local communities, supporting diversity and inclusion, and preventing damage to our planet’s ecosystems.
Foodservice delivery is among the fastest-growing U.S. industries. By 2018, there was a 20% increase in delivery sales over the previous five years.
Another opportunity for innovation on campus includes predictive technologies. They are used for a variety of purposes, including monitoring the temperature of student environments on campus, including dining venues. Thanks to advances in sensor technologies, it’s now possible to virtually monitor any component of campus, from occupancy rates to energy management to foot traffic. This data allows campuses to migrate away from traditional time-based controls to real-time, data-driven controls. For example, when occupancy rates reach peak levels, building controls can automatically lower the temperature in the dining area, increasing student comfort.
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