Local high streets are packed with cafes, restaurants and eateries that cater for every price point, culture and cuisine so the pressure is on university caterers to compete with increased choice and competition. Throw in tight budgets and ever-decreasing margins, and we’ve got a challenge on our hands.
We have seen a seismic shift in education catering, dispelling outdated perceptions of school-like canteens and uninspiring menus, with most UK universities offering ‘on-trend’ catering and bringing high-street choice to the doors of their individual campuses.
Only 5% of UK university students want to eat 'British' food
A key trend that is unlikely to fade anytime soon is the country’s love affair with international street stalls and street food. Pop-ups are a great tried-and-tested method for trialling new cuisines to test their popularity and work out if it’s something that would be worth a more permanent spot. TUCO members, such as Royal Holloway, University of London, have found remarkable success with a series of ‘international food stalls and events’.
In fact, street food became so popular on campus, ‘street-food carts’ were implemented across the campus catering outlets, prompting overwhelmingly positive feedback. 75% of Royal Holloway students surveyed were now more likely to eat on campus because of the new global street food, with 88% reviewing the initiative as ‘good value for money’. What’s more, with the global street food’s revenue increasing by 25% in just one year, this initiative clearly proved popular and productive.
Street food became so popular on campus, ‘street-food carts’ were implemented across the campus catering outlets, prompting overwhelmingly positive feedback
Consumer opinions shift rapidly, particularly in the age of ‘foodie trends’ and predicting the next big thing in food is now big business. The sea change of trends has included an increased focus on nutrition, health and wellness as well as international flavours and cuisines.
TUCO’s global food and beverage trends report 2015, highlighted this keenly when it found that only 5% of UK university students want to eat ‘British’ food. By comparison, 84% wanted to eat a ‘mix of foods from home and elsewhere’. This is a clear signal that international foods should be taken seriously on menus and it is about finding what works well for individual establishments.
84% like to eat a 'mix of foods from home and elsewhere'
Creating themed dishes is another way to create a fun atmosphere and a ‘buzz’ in catering venues. There is a whole list of food-related calendar days and international events to provide a hook for a new, limited menu – from well-known celebrations such as Chinese New Year and the lesser-known but just as tasty National Curry Week to new and innovative opportunities such as National Spinach and World Coconut Day!
However, don’t be tempted into going over the top and creating a vast list of options for a variety of students! This potentially opens the door to poor-quality meals, stretching not only financial resources but also time taken to create dishes. Instead, concentrate efforts on a selection of well-planned meals and focus on investing in high-quality ingredients and preparation, to create a menu that everyone can enjoy.