This fall may finally represent the “return to normal” for colleges and universities, including foodservice operators on campus. That “normal”, however, will look quite different from the fall 2019 semester. Higher education foodservice operators face a number of trends as they welcome students, faculty, and visitors back to their facilities.


One major trend college and university dining operators need to navigate is multi-modal service. Given the emphasis on grab-and-go, delivery, and mobile/kiosk ordering during the pandemic, many students have grown accustomed to these models and expect them to continue going forward.


Higher education operators will need to integrate traditional in-person dining and these newer approaches to foodservice into a cohesive model that is appropriate for their campus and consumers.


Finding and Retaining Staff During the “Great Resignation”

A related trend that affects operators’ service modalities is labor shortages. Fueled by the Great Resignation and competition for talent, many foodservice workers are leaving the industry, and those who remain have increased bargaining power.


Like many operators, higher education foodservice providers are struggling to hire enough staff. Campuses that prefer in-person dining may be forced to go with grab-and-go due to the latter option’s smaller labor footprint.


Food Inflation Sparks Menu Creativity

Higher education operators may choose to deal with labor shortages with smaller menus. This would also help them navigate a third trend: inflation. According to Department of Labor data for July, food prices increased by 10.9% in the past year. 


The increased cost of ingredients and supply chain issues require operators to be creative with menu design. Luckily, this could pair well with plant-forward preferences of college aged consumers.


Multi-modal dining, labor shortages, and inflation are just three of many shifting realities that higher education foodservice operators must contend with as they return to “normal” operations.


More to Come

 In order to better understand the changing needs, constraints, and opportunities that on campus foodservice operators face, Foodservice IP will soon embark on a major study in this sector (see more details on the program here). Keep an eye on this blog for more information as our research unfolds. If you don’t wait that long, get in touch with the Foodservice IP team  to chat.


We’re planning studies for 2023 – please take our industry hot issues five question survey here.

To learn more about FSIP’s Management Consulting Practice, click here.

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