Students in Front of StarBucks Coffee



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.


75% of employers report difficulty finding the talent they need

Freshmen enrollment fell 1.5% between Fall 2021 and Fall 2022

Undergrad enrollment experienced a total decline of 4.2% between Fall 2020 and Fall 2022

One of the most important factors for students deciding which institution to attend is the quality of campus dining and living. They expect convenience and to be in control of their food choices, including when, where and how they access food.

For today’s students, health and wellness are also top of mind. They want to feel good and they want the food they eat to support their healthy lifestyles and the health of the planet. Sustainability and social responsibility are a must. And digital tools are a must-have, from ordering and paying to having access to multiple convenience food pickup points.

By advancing their dining program in these areas, universities and colleges gain the ability to both attract more students and keep them healthy and happy over their entire higher education experience in these areas:

  • Social dining experiences
  • Fresh approach to meal plan sales
  • Options served the way students want
  • Soothing spaces and social hubs that don’t break the bank

54% of students say food service offerings are a key part of why students choose one school over another.

Datassential C&U 2022 Segment Report



Social Dining Experiences

Reinvent Residential Dining

Adding Student-Centric Features

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.

Key features of dining experiences for today’s students include:

  • Places to hang out — Comfortable furniture, music selection, and variety of seating options
  • Dining options — Around-the-clock dining options, like residential, retail and convenience stores
  • Flex spaces — Pop-up restaurants to showcase changing menus

Nearly 1/3 of students who eat on campus list the chance to socialize with classmates as a motivator for eating on campus

Revamp Retail Dining

Making Food More Convenient

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.

23% of campus students have ordered ahead for pick up

Fresh Approach
to Meal Plan Sales

Improve Meal Plan Sales Programs

Achieving Recurring Meal Plan Revenue

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.

Humanize the Sales Process

Equip Students With Tablets and Talking Points

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.

48% of students consider the opinions of their peers before making purchases

Launch Social Media Programs

Reaching Students Where They Are

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.

45% of U.S. diners said they’ve tried a restaurant for the first time because of a social media post made by the establishment itself

With a strong social media marketing strategy, institutions can deploy best practices such as creating effective social media campaigns using notifications, creative visuals, compelling videos, ads, branding and two-way communication. Sustain the momentum with robust content marketing plans and analytics to track results.

Options served the way students want

Open Campus C-Stores

Energize Students on the Go

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.

Deploy Sustainable Strategies

Launching Innovative Programs

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.

“Climate change has become a defining factor in companies' long-term prospects”

Source Food Responsibly

Accessing Local, Small and Diverse Farmers

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.

73% of Gen Z believes their generation is more concerned about the environmental impact of food choices than other generations

Reduce Food Waste

Minimizing Environmental Impacts

Food waste ends up depleting nearly a quarter of our water supply in the form of uneaten food or over $172 billion in wasted water

Another vital sustainability program is reducing food waste, which also helps to conserve and protect natural resources and minimize operational impacts on the environment. To that end, many campuses are already striving to support a zero-food-waste world. One way to lower food waste is by reducing the waste of so-called “ugly” food (deformed fruits or veggies) by using it in juices. Similar waste reduction efforts are being made for plastics, which will help keep oceans healthy. Initiatives include reducing single-use plastics such as straws and stirrers, and introducing reusable containers and minimizing other packaging.

Install Ordering Technologies

Delivering Foodservice Convenience

Foodservice delivery is among the fastest-growing U.S. industries. 22% of students have ordered delivery via third party apps, Datassential C&U 2022 Segment Report.


20% students have ordered delivery from campus dining

Taking campus dining into the 21st century requires addressing areas of service vital to students, including rapid food delivery at all times of the day and the ability to order and receive food on their specific schedules. These results are delivered through innovative food ordering technologies. Campuses deploying food ordering technologies now are providing students with what they expect — convenience, customizable food options and fast delivery. As a result, they are boosting on-campus dining participation.

Create Soothing Spaces and Social Hubs, Without Breaking the Bank

Develop Immersive Dining Experiences

Giving Students Permission to Play

33% of Gen Z report emotional/mental health as a top benefit sought from food/beverage/nutrients, more than any other generation

Dining on campuses is more than just a chance to eat. It’s also a chance for busy students to decompress. Campuses can help students break out of their routines in a variety of ways, such as providing “social playgrounds” with, for example, board games and puzzles, hosting cooking classes, asking for input on background music, and bringing the outdoors indoors with lighting, plants, nature-inspired artwork and furniture that uses natural elements.

opportunity for innovation

Predictive Technologies

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.