Mobile Food Carts for Flexible University Dining Options: An Unexpected Solution Encouraging Student Enrollment
Delivering the university experience that students want has always been important to recruitment and maintaining enrollment numbers, but it’s never been more important than it is post-pandemic. According to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, undergraduate enrollment across all types of schools fell by about 3.5% in Fall 2021 as some students shied away from dorm life and crowded cafeterias. While COVID-19 persists, many would-be university enrollees prefer to forgo a university experience shaped by distancing and restrictions.
Universities looking for ways to enhance student experiences – and ultimately enrollment – will find value in deploying technology, and one compelling idea is equipping university food service with mobile food carts.
Big University Dining Changes, Maybe for the Better
When universities welcomed students back to campus after pandemic shutdowns, they needed to solve the problem of delivering meals safely. Making food locally accessible, rather than requiring students to gather in a cafeteria or other common space, became essential.
Curry College in Milton, Massachusetts was able to increase student satisfaction rates by four percent at a time when scores were dropping by double digits after they implemented a mobile food cart solution to meet students where they were.
Food service carts on wheels allow colleges and universities to transition from traditional, all-you-can-eat university dining operations to flexible and mobile service. With mobile food service, it’s possible for the university to adapt processes at a moment’s notice in response to new health guidelines, allowing students to maintain a safe social distance. Let students know when the cart will arrive in a certain location – outside dorms, near the student center, near auditoriums or labs – and students can pick up their breakfast, lunch, or dinner for in-room or outdoor dining.
Universities are using battery-powered mobile kitchen carts on wheels to set up at remote locations and create made-to-order meals on the spot with a built-in countertop induction range. They can also keep meals warm after being prepared in food service kitchens for grab-and-go convenience. The new approach can save students time and contribute to enhancing overall student experiences.
A New Generation of College Students Want New Options
Although the pandemic was the driver for evolving university food service, change was inevitable. New college students are members of Gen Z, the first truly digital-native generation. They are accustomed to basing decisions on data and accessing information at their fingertips with mobile devices. They also consider ethics, sustainability, and corporate responsibility important.
Today’s college students prefer different campus dining experiences than generations that graduated before them. Gen Z diners demand healthier and plant-based options – and 90% of Gen Z diners are more likely to choose a product with a social or environmental benefit, such as foods sourced from fairtrade growers or local produce that minimizes the fuel and energy necessary to transport it to the kitchen.
Additionally, 25% of students follow a special diet (e.g., vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free, etc.) and nearly half want the ability to customize their meals. Furthermore, 1 in13 have allergies, requiring food service to expand the variety of the menu items offered and following procedures that keep food prep separate from allergens used in some recipes.
In addition to grab-and-go options, universities can allow students to order custom meals online and pick them up at a mobile food cart where their order is kept fresh and warm until they arrive.
Mobile Food Carts and Beverage Carts Help Create Unique Dining Experiences
Deploying mobile food carts for university food service solves the challenge of delivering meals to Gen Z in a post-pandemic world, but it also enhances student life in other ways. Mobile kitchens can be used to prepare fresh meals on the spot via an integrated induction range.
With continuous refrigeration and a built-in induction range, the right mobile kitchen cart on wheels will be there for coffee in the morning, to meet students in the courtyard for lunch, make it easy to serve fresh, hot dinners, and deliver snacks to the sidelines at the big game in the evening – without ever losing power. The university’s food service team can move around campus, taking grab-and-go food and drinks to convenient locations, giving students in a hurry the nutrition they need to get through the day, and contributing to a unique and engaging campus culture.
Mobile kitchen carts on wheels can enhance experiences during university family weekends, at student events, fundraisers, fraternity or sorority activities, sporting events, or at any remote venue or location on campus. They minimize the lines at concession stands, make getting food and beverages more convenient, and encourage a sense of community by providing refreshments anywhere they are needed.
Mobile Kitchen Carts: The Solution for Today’s Students
The evolution of university operations that began in 2020 will continue as a new generation of students demand greater convenience and choices – and will base their decisions on where to study on the types of experiences the university delivers. The future is connected and mobile, and university food service will need to keep pace. Contact us to learn how mobile food carts can transform operations and enhance student experiences.