Want to check out some of the most exiting things happening in foodservice today? Head back to college. Not to the classroom but to the cafeteria. One quick look around the dining facilities at leading schools large and small today confirms that they look nothing like your father's, mother's, or unless you're fresh out, even your own college cafeteria.
In fact, on trend-setting campuses old-school cafeterias have gone the way of the automat. In their place are vibrant, multi-concept marketplaces that cater to students' increasingly sophisticated tastes and meet a dizzying array of special dietary needs without skipping an operational beat. Vegan, kosher, gluten-free, halal, peanut-sensitive? No problem. It's all there and more — and likely has its own dedicated station or even its own hall. In the mood for sushi, Mexican, a cage-free egg omelet, soul food, a juicy organic burger topped with locally grown lettuce and tomato, lobster or maybe some freshly steamed Chinese bao buns? They've got you covered from early morning 'till late night.
But the food itself is only part of the equation. Reflecting the environmental concerns of a large portion of their constituents, contemporary college dining programs are increasingly sustainable, committed to composting and recycling, sourcing local and organic products, even growing their own fruits, vegetables and herbs in on-site gardens. They're appealing not only to students' stomachs but to their ideals and interests as well.
And campuses are accommodating all of these concerns in revamped or newly built facilities that are big on style, dazzling in design and anything but institutional. Equipment is out front, put to work in interactive stations stocked with fresh ingredients for speed-scratch cooking by professionally trained chefs in whites. Menu boards are digital and flat screen TVs provide entertainment. Seating is varied and geared not just for dining but for hanging out, studying and collaborating. Integrated demonstration kitchens used for guest chef appearances and cooking classes add culinary pizzazz and an educational draw for the Food Network generation.
Clearly, progressive college foodservice operators are working hard to satisfy students' increasingly high expectations. But they're also onto the market's potential. With 16 million college students in the United States wielding some $300 billion in spending power, according to Technomic, it's a market with strong revenue potential.
Here, FE&S profiles nine colleges and universities from across the nation that are redefining campus dining in a variety of ways. From UCLA's new FEAST at Rieber Pan-Asian restaurant, to the University of North Texas' dedicated vegan dining hall, to the University of Vermont's reusable takeout container program, they're making high-quality, innovative foodservice one very big asset on campus.