Sunday, January 3, 2010

Survey Finds Opportunities for Campus Dining Services

"On the whole, [college] students exhibit relatively erratic dining behavior and tend to include a fair amount of snacks in their diet each day," says Technomic, a consumer research company, in reporting the results of its 2009 survey of college students.

While this observation may not be news to college dining service managers, the details of Technomic's survey results are worth noting. Ignoring these data may result in reduced patronage and meal plan participation as students find more satisfying off-campus alternatives.

The survey confirms that today's students have a casual approach to meals and consider them occasions to be as much social occasions as necessary "refueling" activities. They want to eat, or at least nibble, whenever and where ever the mood strikes them, typically while studying, with friends in a social setting or in their dorms.

Some key findings reported by Technomic:
  • More than a third of men and 48% of women surveyed said they replace one or more meals per day with snacks.
  • Thirty-seven percent of respondents said they eat three meals a day and snack in between.
  • Fifty-one percent of men and 35% of women said they want later dining hours on campusand 32% of men and 22% of women would like to have campus delivery service.
"These findings, paired with the high importance students place on convenience, can lead to a number of opportunities for college dining programs," Technomic said.
Students have cars to reach off-campus eating spots and telephones to order from off-campus delis, Chinese restaurants and pizza parlors that deliver. They are providing services and conveniences that the campus dining service can offer and are taking in dollars that could be in the dining service's coffers.
Actions campus dining service operators can take to increase customer counts and revenue include:
  • Increase the choice of snack-type foods in the dining center, including packaged "grab-and-go" items.
  • Make meal plans more flexible to accomodate the new, more casual meal preferences.
  • Extend dining center hours.
  • Keep at least one campus coffee bar, deli or similar facility open into the wee hours, at least Monday through Thursaday and Sunday night. Only one or two attendants would be needed.
  • Offer snack options that reflect the tastes and preferences of the campus. Pizza isn't the only food students like.
  • Offer dorm delivery service at night. Weekend days also may be a profitable time to offer this service for those who don't feel like coming to the dining hall.
  • Adapt the meal plan so that meal cards can be used at any campus dining facility and to pay for deliveries.
Technomic surveyed 1,500 students who are "representative of the current college population as defined by the U.S. Department of Education, the firm said. Survey results were distributed to members by the National Association of College and University Food Services.