OVERVIEW — OCTOBER 2013
Grab 'N Stay
With their busy lifestyles, more and more students these days are eating their meals on the go. It would be a very poor operational decision not to offer grab 'n go items to meet their needs, but whenever you can, you should encourage your students to not just eat your food, but to eat it with you.
One important goal of college and university food service, of course, is to help create and build a sense of community on campus. For resident students, who are getting their meals from you every day, college is now a home away from home. It's just as important to keep commuter students — who often don't feel as much a part of the campus culture — in the fold as well.
Deon Lategan, director of Residential Dining at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, is concerned about the increase in students who are choosing to take their meals to go — a third of meals served on his campus are for students who ask for their meals this way. “I would like to think there is more to the dining experience than just meeting your calories for the day,” he said. “There is a social component, too.”
That's a very important point. There is a social component to dining on campus — and while it is extremely important to offer students meals on the go (they will probably go off campus if you don't, and that is the last thing you want), it is also important to find ways to encourage them to be part of the community.
At Colorado State's new Durrell Dining Center, Lategan and the designers made sure to add a number of components that encourage students to stay in the dining hall by making it an inviting and homey place. They put a lot of thought into the little things — like the tchotchkes on the walls — because of his philosophy that the eye eats first: “It is not just about the food, but the environment in which you eat it.”
They also made it more comfortable for students who are eating on their own, with the inclusion of more two-tops and counter seating. This way, students don't feel that they have to go back to their rooms if they are alone; a person eating alone can find a little corner to him or herself, eat and study, and perhaps even run into friends who he or she wouldn't have seen while eating alone in the dorm.
An inviting atmosphere with comfortable seating to encourage students to sit, relax and enjoy their meals is a major part of the newly renovated Port Sky Café at Penn State Altoona as well, in addition to the great food.
Janet Adams Decker, general manager with Sodexo at Saint Peter's University in Jersey City, N.J., and Amber Arguijo, marketing manager with Aramark, at the University of Houston in Texas, like many other foodservice folks, encourage commuters to stay on campus to eat. Unlike resident students, commuters have less need to eat their meals on campus, but they are part of the campus community.
Finding ways to have them eat on campus will not only help raise your revenues, but will also make their college experience that much better. You want to try to keep commuter students from feeling that the campus is just a place to attend classes and study — and nothing else.
Keeping students on campus to eat with you has no real downside. It will increase your revenues — and help build that sense of community to which every school aspires.