Dining halls and campus dining options are an essential decision-maker between universities for new college students. With the increased use of online food delivery options like GrubHub, Uber Eats, and DoorDash, the new generation of college students are used to vast menu options in the palm of their hand. Colleges have to adapt to meet these needs and provide unique offerings and experiences to attract and retain students in the dining halls.
Here’s some ways to adapt your university dining program to keep the new generation enticed:
- Meet new dietary needs
Students need certain foods to be easily accessible to them based on their dietary needs from gluten-free to vegan. Specifically Gen-Z students are increasing aware of their eating habits and focused on improving their personal health and the health of the planet through what they choose to eat. Younger generations are more sensitive to ingredients and how their food is prepared, which is important to translate into campus dining experiences. Allergens are also a make or break for many students looking for an easy and accessible way to get food that meets their restrictions. By providing options for students with allergies (dairy, wheat, soy for example) and for students who make choices for their environmental impact (vegetarian, vegan, or non-GMO) you are fostering an inclusive nature through the campus dining and more students will want a part of it. Make small concessions to start, like preparing all your food with allergen free or non-GMO cooking sprays to not spread or contribute to allergens in foods or provide an option that is completely clean label in all your food prep. You can spray it in all pans, regardless of any dietary needs, and still get great results. It’s an easy change to position your university’s dining experience in a progressive and inclusive way for all students to be attracted to.
- Offer good food and a variety
The same food week to week can get stale very quickly and make your food options seem average and bland. Add some variety to dishes but also at what time of day they are served. Try having breakfast food for dinner on a special night or celebrate cultural holidays with that specific culture’s or holiday’s signature dishes. Add some different flavor or spices to your recipes to mix up a plain chicken breast prepared in the same fashion week to week. Experimentation is the key to providing a unique and exciting dining experience for students.
- Don’t be afraid to try new things
Creating traditions and building community among students is one of the benefits of living on campus and going to college. Annual events like an outdoor picnic with food trucks or different cuisines for students to try can create a memorable experience that students will wait for year after year. Having staple foods that you are known for doing well while also expanding on those ideas is another good way to engage students in dining hall activities. College students want to feel like they belong to something, and having giveaways, events, and special breakfasts/lunch/dinners or snacks is a great way for dining halls to establish themselves as the top choice for student’s meals.
Often students will choose to order takeout as it seems like a safer and easier option when they are riddled with exams, papers, and homework. Making campus dining fun, healthy, inclusive to dietary needs, and exciting to go to is a way to build the campus culture and experience to attract new students and retain the same ones year to year.