Grab-and-go kiosks have become staples on college and university campuses, as students and staff are seeking convenient, fresh alternatives to traditional dining halls.
Rocky Rockwell, chef at Alto-Shaam Inc., and Kevin Cromwell, owner of Stoughton, Mass.-based Cromwell Consulting Inc. provide insightful and inspiring tips and trends for operators regarding this segment.
Q. Why have grab-and-go kiosks become so prevalent on college and university campuses?
Rocky Rockwell: Grab-and-go for college kids is paramount. Schools that combine these kiosks with 24-hour dining are in good shape. Programs can’t only be made up of traditional all-you-can-eat dining facilities, because campuses are so huge and these are not always convenient. Kiosks can be run by one person, constantly monitored and easily restocked throughout the day. Universities are more likely to have more grab-and-go locations situated in areas of campus that can’t support traditional dining halls.
Q. What types of grab-and-go items are popular for university and college kiosks?
Rocky Rockwell: Today’s students aren’t looking for just sandwiches and salads, even though many think these are the top sellers. It’s the small bite items that are selling, like two hard-boiled eggs in a package; pita chips with hummus; carrots and celery with ranch dip; and parfaits and pudding cups. These items are inexpensive, and students can pick up a couple different things for more variety. It’s a little bit of the tapas mentality, but with grab-and-go items, that’s what we’re seeing. Healthier options also are a trend, such as cheese, nuts, yogurt and dried fruits. At Texas A&M, we were creating packages of cheese with fruit, for example.
Q. What type of support is needed for grab-and-go kiosks at the university level?
Rocky Rockwell: When I was at Texas A&M University, we did a ton of grab-and-go. We had one fairly large dedicated 50 degree Fahrenheit kitchen for producing these items. The biggest liability is time and temperature. Everything has to be cold. Although a refrigerated kitchen is not the most pleasant environment, we found the right staff to run it. We utilized five roll-in quick chillers and cooked using combi ovens in another shared kitchen. We also used probes on our Quickchillers™ to make sure we could record temperatures and that these were properly maintained. Between producing product in a cold atmosphere, packing these items and delivering them in refrigerated trucks, we were able to ensure safe temperatures were maintained throughout the process.
Kevin Cromwell: With today’s equipment technology, we can gently hold food at consistent and safe temperatures without blowing hot air over it and drying food out. With Alto-Shaam’s combi and Vector ovens, operators can easily and conveniently cook in small batches, providing consistent results and sell grab-and-go items throughout the day.
Q. How has equipment technology changed the face of grab-and-go in school kiosks?
Kevin Cromwell: Food is fashion and tastes change throughout the generations, so automation is key. It’s important to be able to adjust to trends quickly. A single-use piece of equipment that is not programmable or versatile will be outdated sooner rather than later. Also, energy conservation should be considered, as this equipment will be run all day. Footprints also are important, as is the equipment’s appearance. Ventless units are becoming more popular, along with equipment that has the ability to batch cook. More people are moving away from microwaves, as quality and expectations have increased.
Learn how you can expand a grab-and-go program with Alto-Shaam equipment. Register now for a free A Taste of Alto-Shaam demo at a kitchen near you