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H. David Porter, FCSI, is the president & CEO of Porter Khouw Consulting Inc. describes what he thinks the future of college and university dining will be.

Viewpoint: What fall 2021 and beyond holds for college & university dining

Online classes, mobile food ordering and other coronavirus pandemic-induced practices have altered the college dining landscape, at least temporarily. The challenge for campus dining programs now is to maintain focus on their value-proposition while providing a critical link to campus-wide student engagement.

This article does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the editors or management of Food Management.

Since March 2020, society has been faced with a new way of life that no one could have predicted. In the coming years, it will be important to understand how the past, the present and the future will come together for a new social landscape.

One thing that has changed our present and most likely our future is Zoom. Undoubtedly, we will all continue to use Zoom meetings in our personal and business lives. While we will want to meet in person again, I predict Zoom and other platforms alike will be here to stay. We have all learned that Zoom and similar applications give the convenience of meeting without the commute and that is something that I predict will be implemented permanently.

DavidPorter_shot02_037.jpgAnother way life has changed is how accustomed we have become to using food ordering and delivery apps. Keeping with the trend of convenience, Door Dash, Uber Eats, Grub Hub and many others have allowed us to have our favorite restaurant food delivered to our front door. With that, many have also been using specific restaurant apps to order, pay and go to the restaurant to pick up the order. This option has taken out the delivery fee while still allowing for convenient dining. These are just a few of the realities that have come to fruition during the past 10 months.

There is a saying in business to be where your customers are. It is a safe assumption that many if not all college students have at least one food delivery/restaurant app on their phones. Most college and university campuses have a number of fast food and casual dining options just off campus, making it just a click away to order, pick up or get their food delivered. While it is my belief that these apps will not eliminate the importance of on-campus dining, we do know with heightened use, they will hyper exploit your dining programs weaknesses.

I have been conducting focus groups with students on campuses for over 30 years and I believe that your college and/or university gets the first bite of the student’s loyalty apple when it comes to dining on campus. However, that apple will become soured if your program lacks value through limited hours, limited menu choices, and limited access at various times of the day or night and weekends. Students will inevitably grow weary of an antiquated four- or five-week approach to developing a menu cycle and turn to their trusted food delivery app which allows them to gain access to a seemingly unlimited selection seven days a week.

Here’s what I believe to be true, now and in the future:

  • New and returning college students look forward to “The College Experience.”
  • Student engagement is synonymous with “The College Experience.”
  • Students who live and dine on campus are more likely to stay enrolled and graduate.
  • The student value proposition of attending college is more important today than ever before.
  • The landscape for attracting and enrolling students is more competitive than ever before.

By using social architecture as a guiding principle, it is our professional opinion that there is nothing on a day-to-day basis on a college and/or university campus that is a more potent and effective catalyst to facilitate and affect the highest levels of student social engagement than a properly developed dining program. The intended consequences of using social architecture as a guiding principle result in positive movement and increases in the following areas:

  • Acceptance yield (the number of students who enroll after receiving an acceptance letter)
  • Student retention (the number of fall freshmen that return as fall sophomore students)
  • Housing occupancy
  • Average GPA’s
  • Graduation rates

Since March 2020, life has challenged us in ways we could never imagine. This includes all aspects of campus dining including (at least temporarily) less emphasis on residential dining, less communal dining, more takeout (with a hit to sustainability) and lower meal plan participation (due to limited number of residential students allowed on campus). With 2020 in the rearview mirror, it’s critical that college dining directors take the lessons learned last year and use that intelligence to identify ways to improve their dining programs in 2021 and beyond. The key—as it was in the past, is in the present and will be in the future—is to ensure that your dining program is focused on the value-proposition and providing that critical link to campuswide student engagement.

H. David Porter, FCSI, is the president & CEO of Porter Khouw Consulting Inc., a foodservice strategic planning and design firm based in Crofton, Md., and also the author of The Porter Principles. He can be reached at [email protected]. a higher educ

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