dining services

COVID-19: THE TREMENDOUS CHALLENGES FACING YOUR UNIVERSITY DINING SERVICES

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Remember the carefree days of walking into your dining hall and waiting in line to get your lunch or a snack?

Well, those days are gone – and the challenge moving forward is how best to reinvent campus dining in a world of social distancing, concerns over cross-contamination, and a broken supply chain that is going to limit your choices.

What Is The “New Normal” For Campus Dining?

A recent survey of college students found that approximately 35% of students did not plan on purchasing or consuming food from an on-campus dining location. (Source: Nutrislice)

And that same study found that 85% are concerned about how they will order and pay for meals if contactless options are not available.  If digital ordering and payment options are available, 50% said they would be more likely to buy food from an on-campus dining location.

“In conversations with foodservice directors at colleges and universities across the country, it’s clear they know dramatic changes must be made to accommodate social distancing and new food-handling requirements,” said Michael Craig, Chief Evangelist, Nutrislice. “But I’m not sure any of us knew just how high the expectations would be from the actual student population. As an industry, we have a lot of work ahead of us to convince students that college cafeterias and cafes are safe. If we don’t, fewer students will dine on campus, which will have a dramatic impact on the bottom line when schools reopen.”

Your Food Services And Facility Management Partners

If you work with a food services and facility management company, you need to work with them on their plan to operate moving forward.  What will be the game plan for social distancing? And how will they limit person-to-person contact?

With the supply chain in disarray, dining facilities may struggle to get the ingredients and supplies.  How will that impact services?  And what’s the plan to minimize this inconvenience – especially when serving students with special dietary conditions?

And be prepared for students demanding a healthier menu than pre-COVID-19 while also expecting familiar comfort-food.

What About The Student Experience?

The dining hall has always been a place to meet friends, make friends, and socialize.  Well, that has ended, and now you need to develop a vision for how your students can still enjoy these elements of the college experience.

And your vision should address how to achieve this with more students electing to take-out or have meals delivered to their rooms.

Outside of the dining hall, colleges and universities are leveraging technology to help address the socializing that goes on outside the classroom.

Long-distance movie nights using Netflix Party might be an option for a “Dinner and a Movie” program.

Or sponsoring a Healthy Eating show broadcast via Facebook Live might be another way to bring your students together.

The point here is dining has been a community experience, and you should give serious thought to how your institution can keep that valuable experience alive.

Monitoring & Modifying Your Plan

Transparency and a constant flow of information are going to be crucial elements in your efforts to convince students that on-campus dining is safe.  And remember to keep Mom and Dad in the loop as well.

Updates on processes and procedures, as well as sharing results, will build confidence in your services.  Just be prepared to report any not-so-good news that might occur.

The rebuilding of your dining services will take time.  Be prepared to do some new, out-of-the-box things like adding delivery robots for your students.  Leverage your foodservice provider’s technology to handle contactless ordering and payment. And be prepared for some days that are much better than others – which, I guess, is a flashback to the ‘old normal,’ isn’t it?

 

Chuck Faulkinberry

Written by

A university auxiliaries administrator and dining services professional for a worldwide leader in food and facilities management. Chuck has over 35 years of hands-on experience and management focus in higher education dining and auxiliary services. Chuck’s insight includes: extensive campus dining expertise, contracted bookstores, university run mail services and print shops, card services, lease management and all aspects of event planning and operation. Having worked “in the trenches,” he has the personality to clearly communicate with your organization to evaluate site conditions, operating statements, meal plans, card programs and bookstore reviews.

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