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3 Ways COVID-19 Will Change College Food Service

College students are weighing in about how their dining habits will change as many colleges and universities plan to at least partially re-open this fall. With continued concern about COVID-19, will large student dining centers become a thing of the past? How will this impact educational institutions that relied on food service for additional revenue?

Food service industry magazine Total Food Service* recently published data from a Nutrislice survey of more than 800 college and university students across the United States. Results point to the need for three key changes to on-campus food service programs for both faculty and students.

  1. Think satellites, not student centers
  2. Maximize perceptions of safety and security
  3. Restructure revenue expectations

Why it matters

Giving students dining and snacking options that reflect their preferences is important.  25 percent – one out of every four college and university students – said the institution’s food service program impacted which school they ultimately decided to attend (2019 College & University Consumer Trend Report). You can even find lists of colleges ranked for “best college food in America” online.

On-campus food service and vending revenues make up a significant portion of revenue for many U.S. colleges and universities. While the cost of food for U.S. consumers has risen 26 percent over the past ten years, the average college meal plan has increased by 47 percent over the past decade. Losing the patronage of students or being unable to offer traditional meal plans would significantly reduce revenues that many colleges and universities have come to rely on to help make up budget gaps.

What students want now

Before COVID-19, students on-campus food service preferences might have revolved around types of foods available, overall cost, convenience, or choices. Today, students planning to return to campuses across America are concerned about safety:

  • 40% say they do not plan to get food from on-campus dining facilities due to safety concerns

Of the remaining students who are still willing to utilize on-campus dining, food service and vending options:

  • 85% are worried about how they will order and pay for meals if contactless options are not available to them on campus
  • 30% say they will completely avoid any on-campus dining venue that does not offer mobile ordering or payment
  • 70% say having the ability to order and pay for food via mobile devices would make them feel safer

covid-19 college dining habits changing with 30% students expecting mobile ordering and payment

Three ways COVID-19 will change college food service

  1. Think satellites, not student centers

  2. Even if student preferences for mobile ordering and payment can be accommodated, it might not be tenable to transform traditional dining halls and on-campus cafeterias into spaces that comply with COVID-19 requirements for student or faculty safety.  Retrofitting these spaces with dividers, more space between seats and updating procedures for cleaning and disinfecting will be costly, especially since it will be necessary to serve fewer patrons at the same time.

    Everything is changing

    Wherever an institution has wall space, electricity and an internet connection, Avanti can transform traditional college dining services and markets into the contactless solutions students are demanding without sacrificing quality. If you are evaluating how to modify a university or college food service for COVID-19 requirements, this might be an ideal time to test the waters with micro markets and smart vending food service options.

    Smart N Go vending machines
    square image smart n go

    Secure, locked refrigerated and non-refrigerated machines can be stocked with nearly any type of food, from packaged snacks and beverages you expect to find in convenience stores to fresh foods that are prepared on campus and which are ready for consumption as-is or which can be cooked or reheated before eating.

    • Completely contactless experience
    • Smart technology automatically charges payment when an item is removed from a unit
    • Ability to stock machines with high-demand, high-profit items

    Micro markets
    square image micro market

    Avanti pioneered unattended retail by transforming company breakrooms. The same model can be utilized on your campus in the form of elevated micro markets available in more secure locations, such as faculty-only cafeterias, offices or lounges. Like our other campus food service solutions, micro markets offer the user a contactless experience while simultaneously offering nearly limitless options to patrons, including fresh and healthy self-serve foods and beverages.


    Express by Avanti
    square image micro market

    You can replace campus cashier-staffed mini markets with contactless Express by Avanti Markets. Our proprietary technology enables colleges to eliminate checkout lines and contact. As with Smart N Go smart vending technology and micro markets, these solutions may even improve food service profit margins by cutting costs and offering high margin selections.

    All of these solutions can be further enhanced with hot beverage dispensing machines including bean-to-cup coffee stations. And all three of these solutions can be completely outsourced to market operators, effectively creating zero cost campus food service programs, and which can also still produce revenue for an institution.


  3. Make students safer (and make them feel safer)

  4. To comply with COVID-19 requirements and improve safety and health for students and faculty, colleges and universities are evaluating changes in course delivery, on-campus living arrangements, college food service, sports, arts, clubs and similar enrichment programs and more. It is likely that many lectures will be delivered online instead of in class, and that students will be spending more time in their dorms and other on-campus living facilities.

    Decentralizing dining by placing contactless college food service options throughout your campus provides students and faculty with safer ways to buy and consume food. Because food is more convenient to their locations, it may even increase consumption, in turn producing additional revenues.

  5. Restructure revenue

Educational institutions which have come to rely on campus dining and meal programs for revenues can continue to do so. Avanti Markets’ Smart N Go, Micro Markets and Express provide colleges and universities with flexible, scalable food service solutions that can be implemented at a low cost (or even no cost) and still generate profit.

Our team is ready to help! Contact us today and we will work with you to determine which solutions would be ideal for your college or university and what equipment you will need. We will then pair you with an operational expert in your area to finish customizing your contactless college food service program. Your solutions can be in place in days – just in time for when students return to campus.

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