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OCH CoverOn-Campus Hospitality





OVERVIEW — MARCH 2013

 

Food Trucks Drive Community Building

 

One of the biggest trends in college and university dining over the last few years has been food trucks. Many schools have brought them on campus and many more are talking about doing so.

A food truck may not be the right fit for every campus for a variety of reasons, including demographics and the size of the student population. Some schools simply do not want them, whether they would work well or not.

One of the main reasons we have heard for operations not choosing to have a food truck on campus is that it can hamper the sense of community that having students eat in a central dining hall can bring. While building that sense of community is one of the main goals of any dining operation, when done right, a food truck can in fact help do just that and, perhaps, bring it to new levels.

Many schools that have chosen to add a food truck cite providing food service to underserved areas of campus as a main reason. By doing so, the schools are making sure that the students in these areas of campus are well fed — and they don't have to leave campus for meals. The food truck thus becomes a meeting area for students during their break and meal times — thereby building community.

Another main reason why food trucks are brought into a campus operation is to satisfy students' late-night food cravings. Just like providing for students in underserved areas of campus, the goal with food trucks is to keep students on campus when they are hungry.

What also happens with these trucks at night is that they draw large crowds on campus, many times with a fun, party atmosphere. Students talk to one another while in line and after they have gotten their food — creating the kind of community that any foodservice manager would envy.

Many dining operations have also created Twitter and Facebook accounts for their food trucks. Students can — and do — track the movements of the trucks and plan their nighttime activities accordingly. It is also common to see students texting one another when they are at the food truck.

The launch of the food truck can also provide an opportunity for the type of fun activities that bring a community together, and offer that sense of belonging.

Many schools hold contests to name the truck and some of the items, like signature burgers and sandwiches. With this type of student involvement in the launch, the truck and its offerings are connected even more to the community.

Building a sense of community has always been an important part of what dining operations do on campus. For those schools for which a food truck would be a good fit — and that is for you to decide — any worry about diminishing that sense of community shouldn't be a factor.