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University catering - can you really please everyone?

The challenges university caterers face when it comes to pleasing a variety of student appetites

Posted by Hannah Oakman | August 25, 2016 | Catering & hospitality

Julie Barker, Chair of TUCO and Director of Accommodation & Hospitality at University of Brighton

One of the greatest challenges that university caterers face is pleasing a variety of student appetites. While this task may seem large and daunting, forward planning can help eliminate the majority of stress and time taken to create menus to suit all tastes. 

With over 1.7 million undergraduates enrolling on full-time courses in the last academic year – not to mention staff and other further education students – caterers must deliver excellent service and goods, while also answering a variety of needs as well as keeping up with current eating trends.

Providing a vast list of options for a variety of students potentially opens the door to poor quality meals – as this stretches not only financial resources but also time taken to create dishes. By cutting down menus to a selection of well-planned meals, focus can be shifted onto investing in high-quality ingredients and preparation, which will create a plate that everyone can enjoy. 

Keeping up with ever-evolving student trends is the best way to plan ahead and keep a multiplicity of students happy. According to the largest-ever global eating trends study, only 5% of UK university students actually want to eat British food – 84% want to eat a ‘mix of foods from home and elsewhere’. It is figures such as this that university caterers need to be aware of, as supplying foods which students have no interest in eating will lead to dissatisfaction and ultimately financial loss. 

Speciality ‘food festivals’ and national events such as ‘national breakfast week’, ‘vegetarian week’, ‘Independence day’, ‘Chinese New Year’ and other international holidays, especially those which incorporate key food trends, can have an impressive, positive impact on student satisfaction as well as on the all-important bottom line.

 For example, TUCO members, such as Royal Holloway, have found remarkable success with their series of ‘international food stalls and events’. Seventy-five per cent of students surveyed were more likely to eat on campus because of the new global street food, and with the global street food’s revenue increasing by 25% within just one year, the ‘internationalism trend’ is clearly on the up. 

In the end, quality planning all comes down to the right support from industry experts and listening to your university’s student base. The right knowledge is out there for caterers to take advantage of and as a result they can continually step up to the mark and provide current and relevant menus, which any establishment would be proud of.”

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