Foodservice in colleges and universities, like all foodservice segments, has evolved over the years. However, your impression of college dining is probably still the one that you formed while attending college – and chances are the dining experience at your alma mater is not your fondest memory.
Recent graduates, however, have much fonder memories, because college and universities (C&U) have kicked their foodservice programs into high gear in recent years. An increasingly diverse student body, awareness of food allergies, and an increasing demand for new foods and ethnic flavors are just some of the reasons for the increased focus on food on U.S. college campuses. It’s no surprise the C&U segment is now considered one of the most innovative and responsive in the foodservice industry.
We recently toured the Hospitality program at the University of Southern California and summarized the impressive operation there into 6 consistent trends shared across the C&U landscape.
Everything is Custom
In commercial foodservice, almost every new fast-casual chain in recent years has followed the Chipotle made-to-order concept. This trend is noticeable on college campuses, too. College dining halls now resemble the cafeterias found in high-tech companies in Silicon Valley. Made-to-order stations let students select every ingredient that goes on the plate. From salads to soufflés to stir fry, C&U’s are built for mass customization.
The customization theme doesn’t end with the food. Grab your food and then select the type of seating you prefer within the same space – communal table for the social crowd, booths for privacy, and many other options are available.
The Right Tools: Customized options means a lot of hot/cold ingredients and not necessarily more space. Selecting the right size food pan and proper lid will improve efficiency and food safety.
Green is In
It’s no surprise to find many green initiatives front and center on college campuses. In foodservice, these initiatives start with large-scale microgreen gardens. The overwhelming sense of “freshness” of every ingredient highlights the massive amount of work to grow basil, thyme, mint and other exotic herbs for adding flavor to dishes.
The Right Tools: Microgreens, and all greens, require the right storage to maximize their potential use. Save the greens and use the right storage to keep them looking and tasting great longer.
Most likely this is the first time students are living away from home and allergy management is a priority. Clear and detailed labeling of every food item available is common practice, and again mirrors what is routinely found in foodservice operations in high-tech companies.
Along with allergy concerns, vegan, vegetarian and other requirements are all food preferences that need to be accounted for daily, not only for a “Meatless Monday” event.
USC has an entire cafeteria where the ever-changing menu is always vegetarian. Of course, Cinnamon Toast Crunch is available for breakfast as well. It is vegan, after all.
On the Go
Most colleges have always had a robust catering operation. This trend is increasing, and the ability to move food to increasingly creative event locations makes food safety an increasing priority.
Coffee is synonymous with the C&U crowd but if you’ve attended any recent NACUFS National Conference, you’d think college students never have a minute to sit since so many food companies are making their products for on-the-go students. These products fit nicely with the growing retail business on college campuses. USC mixes in coffee shops and retail, including a large variety of vending products, to provide additional levels of food access for their 40,000+ students.
The Right Tools: Food transport remains the backbone of any C&U operation. With new hot and cold transport options alongside the traditional transport solutions, C&U’s can increase their service footprint.
The Tastes, They Are A-Changin’
Globally-influenced menus are the norm. Sushi and curry dishes are now expected offerings alongside pizza and burgers. Salt and pepper have new neighbors in the condiment stations, which not only serve a diverse student population, but an audience expecting varied flavor options.
Food choices are abundant but presented thoughtfully. The psychology of presenting items that students should fill up their plate with (pasta, rice, salads) in larger dishes than the items that smaller portions should be served is an example of how colleges are looking to make a positive impact on the choices students have in dining.
The World in Microcosm
Today’s C&U operation addresses student needs and faculty needs. USC has a faculty-only restaurant on-campus. It also operates a fine dining restaurant on campus open to the public.
Many operations have evolved along with the universities they service. USC Hospitality now operates a 240-room Radisson hotel (owned by the University) near the campus that includes 3 on-site restaurants.
And all this does not begin to cover the health campuses or hospitals many universities operate and all the foodservice demands that go along with those.
The Right Tools: Hotel foodservice and fine dining customers are among the most demanding requiring products that provide individual service while being able to quickly scale up for large banquets. Reliable products like the trusted Camtread® trays, the room service plate covers, and the most hygienic warewashing options available are all designed to make any operation a success.
These 6 trends highlight the changing nature of C&U dining options and the student population. Variety and flexibility are the common themes in this evolving landscape.
For solutions designed for C&U’s contact your Cambro representative.