College and University Foodservice

College and university foodservice has undergone a major overhaul in recent years.

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Because display cooking is so prevalent in today’s college foodservice operations, equipment, like the items seen here in Stanford’s Ricker Hall, need to be visually appealing as well as functional.
No longer defined by limited dormitory dining hall cafeteria menus, college and university foodservice has substantially expanded to include food courts with signature and well-known brands, upscale restaurants, grab-and-go outlets and even sports bars. Indeed, at many progressive schools, the restaurant options seem endless.

It was only a matter of time until the segment adapted to meet the needs and increasingly sophisticated tastes of 18- to 24-year-old students.

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Calorie-laden comfort food menus of meatloaf and chicken à la king were blamed for the "freshman 15," the extra weight college students put on at school. With healthier fare, calorie counting menus and tools and dietary programs that cater to them, students now only have themselves to blame for any excess weight gain. The classic American comfort food is still around, but is now competing with authentic ethnic dishes, vegetarian fare and gourmet entrees.

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The increased variety is reflected in this segment's revenue. Sales of food and nonalcoholic beverages in the education sector totaled more than $30 billion in 2010, according to Technomic, a Chicago-based market research firm. The segment achieved 1.1 percent real growth in 2011, trailing only the travel and leisure sector.

Although the food and beverage cost per meal served increased from 2007 to 2009 in this segment, so did revenues per retail operations meal, according to the Okemos, Mich.-based National Association of College & University Food Services' (NACUFS) Operating Performance Benchmarking Survey. Food and beverage cost per meal served grew to $2.68 in 2009, up from $2.58 two years prior, NACUFS reports. Revenues per retail operations meal grew from $4.18 in 2007 to $4.74 in 2009.

A big initiative in many of today's college and university dining programs is sustainability. NACUFS' 2009 Sustainability Survey revealed that approximately 89 percent of its member schools have implemented trayless service practices, a number that is expected to grow. In addition, approximately 86 percent of its member schools had purchased Energy Star-rated equipment to conserve energy.

A February 2010 issue of Restaurants & Institutions (R&I) magazine defined a number of trends in college and university dining. Restaurant-style seating, including high-tops, booths and traditional tables, is growing in popularity because it provides students with a choice of eating more communal-style or in smaller groups. To accommodate the movement toward more authentic cuisine, some colleges use special equipment items such as tandoor ovens and Brazilian-style churrasqueiras for skewered meats.

There also has been an increase in online ordering as well as grab-and-go sandwich and salad stations. Payment terminals have been installed in dining halls to provide added convenience for busy students.

Display kitchens have become theatre in so many foodservice operations, colleges included. For example, wood-burning brick and stone ovens are being implemented in colleges and universities to prepare pizza, bread and meat dishes.

As mentioned earlier, sustainability is a big initiative in school dining programs. Recycling, composting and grease collection programs have become more commonplace. Some colleges and universities are going one step further, planting their own gardens on roofs to help reduce heat absorption, using motion sensor lighting and installing low-flow plumbing.

Key Equipment:

E&S Considerations
  • Durability: Because many campus operations are serving large numbers of students during extended business hours, equipment must be both durable and reliable to keep up with the pace.
  • Energy Efficiency: Sustainability is becoming more prevalent at universities today. Energy-efficient cooking and refrigeration equipment is not only more environmentally friendly, but can help save utility costs.
  • Flexibility: School dining hall menus are constantly changing to keep up with the trends. For this reason, units are needed that provide multipurpose use for a variety of items.
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