Choice is a strong trend in college dining these days, but it generally refers to the composition of dishes and their variety, not the overall cuisine concept of a particular serving outlet.
But this fall at Hofstra University on New York’s Long Island, that latter is exactly what students have: A choice of what cuisine concept they want to see at the Student Choice café in the campus Student Center.
Each week, students can submit their votes for one of 10 branded concept options, with the winner implemented the following week at the station.
The current options are:
- Sono: Tex-Mex bowls, burritos and tacos
- Rooted: plant-based cuisine with international flavors
- Za’tar: Mediterranean cuisine
- Twisted Mac: Grown-up mac & cheese
- Masala: Flavors of India
- Bibimbap: Korean rice bowls
- Cabin Fever: artisanal barbecue
- Bird: chicken-based dishes
- Empanadas: craft empanadas
- Handhelds: global sandwiches such as arepas and roti
An eleventh is currently being developed by the campus dining services provider Chartwells. The options are all concepts the company has in its brand portfolio.
The café site, which was exclusively the Sono station last year, was changed to give students more buy-in, says Candace Chau, marketing & communications manager for Campus Dining by Compass Group at Hofstra (Chartwells is a unit of Compass).
“We wanted a concept that students could really get engaged in,” she says, “so a major piece was getting them involved in the voting and having the variety available to them from which they could choose. It gives them a voice and a way of giving them more power and say in their dining plan.”
Students use their phones or laptops to access the university dining site and register their vote, then see the tally to that point in real time. Votes are limited to one per student per week, though they can change their vote before balloting closes, but only one vote will be counted. Voting goes from Saturday to Friday afternoon each week. That gives the culinary team time to convert the station to the new concept, which debuts the following Wednesday.
The most popular to date has been Empanadas, which offers a different empanada each day with a side of rice and beans. Others that have been voted in so far include Handhelds and Twisted Mac.
The idea was piloted with the Student Government Association before school started in order to introduce it and to work out any potential kinks, Chau says. It was officially launched for the entire student body on Sept. 6.
Promotion is through station and café signage and social media.
Student Choice is a Chartwells/Compass brand that was developed internally and has been used at other university sites, but generally to determine station cuisine concepts for the following month, semester or year, not weekly.
“We’ve had great feedback,” Chau says. “Students love it. It makes them feel they have a stronger voice in terms of the dining program.”