When campus life came to an abrupt halt in March, college foodservice providers had to scramble to shut down their operations just as commercial restaurants did.
Beyond the revenue lost for the spring term of this year, many colleges and universities canceled camps, seminars and various other events that often keep their campuses active throughout the summer months, dealing yet another blow to these operators’ finances. The cumulative impact of all this has led to staggering financial losses for universities. To compensate, colleges have implemented pay freezes and cuts, hit pause on capital projects and more.
The University of Notre Dame and Marquette University were among the first institutions to announce their intentions to open for class this fall, albeit starting a few weeks earlier than normal and wrapping up by Thanksgiving. Other universities have since followed suit by announcing their intention to reopen for the fall term. But, as of early June, nearly 50% of states were seeing an increase in their seven-day average of daily new COVID-19 cases. What happens this fall is anyone’s guess as of right now.
Resourceful as ever, though, the college and university segment is offering a master class on how to survive in the near term. Like their restaurant brethren, college and university foodservice providers will have to streamline operations to limit the contact between staff and customers. This will further accelerate the on-campus adoption of customer-facing technology such as app and kiosk ordering. Menus will likely get a slight revamp, too, in order to make better use of resources and emphasize food items that travel well for takeout and delivery. In addition, grab and go will play a prominent role in college foodservice as it will help limit the amount of time students and staff need to congregate in a given space.
The one area where college and university operators won’t compromise, though, is sustainability. College students today are as socially aware as they have been in decades and won’t settle for operations they perceive as being wasteful or not supporting the environment. One of the most tangible ways operators can illustrate their social responsibility is through the specification of environmentally friendly packaging. Moving to eco-friendly packaging, though, is often easier said than done. Operators will need to balance sustainability goals with costs, availability and realities of the day.
While every aspect of a foodservice operation will need to adapt and evolve, none of this will happen without a buy-in from staff. In order for operators to update menus, implement technology or even update packaging, they will need to earn the trust of their staff. That’s because staff will need to execute these initiatives and help build confidence in customers.
Where does the foodservice industry go from here? Nobody knows. But learning the lessons college and university foodservice operators continue to provide represents a good starting point.