As colleges and universities prepare for the upcoming academic year, foodservice is an aspect that requires important decision making. Food trends continue to evolve, and the ever-changing requirements for college dining hall designs are impacted by the latest coronavirus regulations. To help respond to the upcoming changes and challenges, below are new campus dining trends to consider for the 2020-21 school year.
Note: This guide also provides basic tips for colleges, universities and other educational institutions to meet new measures related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Please consult the CDC for the latest health regulations as well as federal, state and local entities for full guidance.
Delivery & Takeout
Delivery and takeout are growing in restaurants throughout the country, and it’s a concept that more colleges and universities should explore for their dining halls or on-campus restaurants. Here are some factors to consider when transitioning smoothly to delivery:
- Space – Does the dining hall’s kitchen have enough space for proper prep and packaging? Are you able to designate space for delivery drivers and takeout customers to pick up orders? It’s crucial that you redesign the dining hall to keep staff and, potentially, dine-in customers safe.
- Proper Packaging – You’ll need to invest in plenty of bags and containers. Look for packaging that can ventilate and insulate hot and cold foods for long periods of time. This helps retain proper flavor and quality.
- New Software – Update or add proper POS software to your front-of-house operations. This helps you keep better track of orders and inventory.
- Third-party vs. in-house delivery – Weigh the pros and cons of both. In-house delivery cuts third-party commission fees but requires you to reimburse drivers for gas in addition to hourly wages. Third-party services like GrubHub, UberEats and DoorDash help eliminate the costs and stress of operating an in-house delivery program but come at a premium with commission fees.
Kelsey Harmon Finn, CEO of NACAS, mobile ordering is another important factor. In an interview with Parts Town, Finn said discussions about mobile ordering have increased recently. The biggest benefit is that it helps cut down on waiting in line, reducing the chances of crowding. An ordering app also is flexible for handling both carryout and delivery orders.
If you decide to incorporate delivery, think about offering it to the surrounding community in addition to students and staff. This could be very beneficial for colleges in small towns where restaurant options are limited because it provides an additional revenue stream and creates exposure to your institution. If you do indeed expand delivery to residents in the community, opt for third-party services. These will put your on-campus restaurants or dining hall on the radar.
Premade meal services have been around for years, but during the COVID-19 crisis, some restaurants have turned to meal kits to help drive sales and serve their favorite dishes. This could be a potential alternative for campus dining as well. Meal kits come in a wide variety of options, ranging from heat-and-eat frozen dinners to deli sandwich kits to packages of gourmet ingredients.
The prepackaged option is great for students who are only interested in quickly microwaving or prepping a meal from their dorm rooms. However, a more complex kit with multiple ingredients is perfect for students in search of hearty yet affordable meal they would’ve found at the dining hall. For instance, you could offer a pizza kit with frozen crust and separate packets of seasoning, sauce, cheese and toppings or a fajita kit with tortilla, peppers, onions and protein. These allow students more flexibility to either follow the directions or customize the meal to suit their tastes.
New Age Dining Hall Design Ideas
Safety and social-distancing guidelines related to the coronavirus have changed cafeteria designs now and for the foreseeable future. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), social distancing requires at least 6 feet—or 2 arms’ length—between people. Below are some spacing and safety protocols to consider for new college dining hall designs:
- Tables and line spacing – Configure all dining tables and line queues at a distance of 6 feet. Set up signage and decals to ensure this physical distancing is followed accordingly.
- Occupancy reduction – Depending on the space of your dining hall and state or local regulations, reduce your standard occupancy to 50%.
- Dine by appointment – To mitigate the risk of crowding, offer in-person dining by reservation only. You can set up a platform on your website and an app, so students can quickly view available times and tables and book their reservations.
- Party reduction – Reduce table sized to groups of 10 or less. This will help reduce crowding.
- Prohibit self-service dining – Until further notice, eliminate salad bars, buffets and other self-service stations from the cafeteria area.
This concept isn’t new to most colleges and universities. On-campus convenient stores and marketplaces have been in style over the last 20 years, giving students and staffs an easy way to grab food and beverages on the go. However, in the wake of COVID-19, these markets are only going to become more prevalent than the traditional dining halls and common areas. In fact, now might be perfect time to convert those spots into spacious mini marts with self-checkout stations.
A grab-n-go market can include more than the usual beverages and packaged foods like chips, sandwiches and wraps. Many have evolved over the years to include healthier and fresher options, and this direction would allow you to serve some of the options you would’ve offered in a traditional dining hall. Think about adding veggie or plant-based alternatives, protein bowls and hearty wraps and salads. You also can offer meal and ingredient kits that students can cook on their own, which brings us to our next idea.
Cooking Videos on Social Media
If you’re going to offer meal kits or packaged ingredients, some people might need help or inspiration. The school’s social media channels, such as Instagram, TikTok and YouTube, can host cooking videos. Students can watch how to prepare or alter the food in their meal kits, or they can learn new recipes using items sold at your campus markets.
Remember that social media is a great marketing channel to attract prospective students, so look at these as branding and promotional opportunities for your institution. By making videos based on trending ingredients, recipes or food hashtags, you can join the conversation in the real time without paying a single penny. The videos can be produced by volunteers or a media class as part of their curriculum. You also can either partner with local influencers to demonstrate in the video or showcase a student or alum. The latter option not only can be more cost effective, but it also creates a more authentic connection with the students and school community.