The range and quality of foods now offered at many U.S. colleges and universities has created a greater degree of competition. According to recent Mintel research, 72 percent of college students who have dined on campus have done so at their campus cafeteria, compared to 65 percent who have done so at a café, restaurant, or coffee shop on campus.
“Students and their parents have come to expect high-quality food in their college or university environments,” says Eric Giandelone, foodservice director at Mintel. “This is placing pressure on schools to include these programs as part of their overall package when attracting students.”
Lighter meals are the most popular option for on-campus diners, with sandwiches (61 percent) leading the pack as most ordered for the on-the-go students. Salads are also a popular preference (42 percent), but would be best served as a to-go alternative versus the standard all-you-can-eat option.
Female students are more likely than male students to opt for healthier choices, such as salads (46 percent vs. 35 percent); however, they also have a sweet tooth and are more likely than males to get a baked good/pastry or ice cream dessert. Men, on the other hand, are less healthy with their on-campus food choices and are notably more likely than women to order French fries (36 percent vs. 30 percent) or cheeseburgers (26 percent vs. 18 percent).
Ultimately, when it comes to top restaurant attributes, price is top-of-mind for student diners.
“Keeping on-campus meals and snacks at a competitive price point will help keep students from wandering off campus for their brain food,” Giandelone says. “This is also true for foodservice providers looking to attract off-campus students not enrolled in a campus meal plan to select on-campus establishments.”
Some 86 percent of students claim price was the most important factor when selecting their eating destination, followed by menu selection, convenient location, and cuisine type (74 percent, 71 percent and 68 percent, respectively).
While not overly important to students now, some 6 percent of students made their choice based on local ingredient usage and 4 percent on the use of fair trade products. This corresponds with the local, sustainable, and green movements that the foodservice industry is seeing as a whole.