Campus dining looks, feels and operates almost completely differently today than it did just a couple of decades ago. And the changes just keep coming as operators become more nimble and responsive to new demands and opportunities for innovation. So what might the segment look like 10 years down the road? Here, seven experienced, progressive leaders share their educated guesses.
Health and wellness will take center stage, and even more than today, quality food will equate to quality lifestyle. Leaner proteins and plant-based proteins will dominate the center of the plate. We’ll also see greater demand for non-GMO ingredients and smaller batch production. Ten years from now, Millennials and Gen Z will be the largest portion of the population, and animal welfare, vegetarianism, sustainability and social responsibility are important to them. Food will continue to be more globally inspired, and authenticity will be the key. There will be no separation between retail and residential; students will use their meal plans anywhere, any time, anyplace.
The future is all about being more restaurant-like. There’s been a trend already toward more fresh, just-in-time preparation and display cooking, but going forward, we’ll see more consolidated dining areas replaced by micro restaurants and markets with distinct personalities distributed throughout campus. We will keep up with what’s trending in restaurants — Korean, Southeast Asian, African or island cuisine. Whatever it is, it will be done on campus. From an equipment standpoint, I don’t see any particularly unique needs coming up. If we’re designing facilities with the right kind of flexibility, they should be able to adapt a station or a concept to fit whatever the next big trend is.
We’ll see much more engagement with food and cooking on campus. It’s already starting, but interest is growing fast, so demand for things like turnkey demo/teaching kitchens that can be integrated into campus dining venues will increase. Meal kits, like those offered by Blue Apron and others, are another opportunity for the future. Students are interested in nutrition and cooking. Why shouldn’t campus stores put together right-sized kits packaged in recyclable or returnable containers for students who want to cook their own meals? Finally, I see future campus dining venues being even more design-forward and using more organic-looking, upscale serviceware.
We’re facing very significant labor cost issues while working to meet rising expectations for quality and diversity. Those types of challenges will certainly continue, and we’ll continue to get even more creative and strategic about how we invest in our programs and facilities to meet them. We’ll continue renovating existing spaces into more profitable micro restaurant concepts and focus more sharply on reducing waste — food, labor and resources. We’re working to be more supportive and engaged with local agencies to combat student hunger through food-recovery programs as well. With equipment, we’ll still look for some specialty pieces that help us be efficient or sell the sizzle, but we’ll be looking for greater versatility overall — we need to be able to push the boundaries and do more with less
The future for the segment is really about understanding what's happening out in the retail world and bringing those things to campus much quicker. It's also about what's happening globally — understanding how food is prepared and consumed in different places in the world and taking cues from that to be very intentional and authentic with the concepts we're creating. We have to be constantly looking for change and what's next and being responsible for how we'll take small steps toward change in the higher ed marketplace. To that end, we'll spend a lot more time on facility planning and design studies up front. We have to go much deeper into conversations about what a venue will look like and how it can be adapted easily and cost-effectively to meet changing future needs.
We're seeing a trend back toward more centralized production. We'd gone away from it because it meant too much standardization and they could basically get the same thing from manufacturers, but operators are increasingly interested in being able to use centralized production to take advantage of things that are low-preservative, low-sodium, organic, fresh, local and seasonal and process them themselves so they can be used in a wide variety of ways. It's part of the quest to provide more healthy, local options and also to have complete control over potential allergens.