Why your dining offer needs a good story

There’s serious competition out there – it’s time to up our in-house game says James Johnson, head of food and beverage design and mobilisation at Therme RPC

With 24/7 access to a highly competitive, branded high street and the explosion of the independent local street food scene, students want more from the traditional in-house university canteen and refectory experience.

Through targeted social media campaigns, today’s student is well informed and hungry to try new things. With discerning tastes and a desire to explore exciting menus, the challenge is now on for campus culinary teams to up their game, re-write recipe books and create value for money – and Instagrammable dishes that compete with some of the best. More than ever, students want to know where food comes from, and provenance now plays a key part of the university procurement strategy – together with acknowledging the diverse dietary and cultural requirements, nutritional needs, and lifestyle choices of the campus community.

The success of an internally branded dining offer on campus will be in its ability to tell a good story. Written together with students and stakeholders, a compelling food story must encompass vision and values and talk about an overarching ethos that will define and drive all food and beverage design and food service operations across campus. Implementing a strategy to deliver on that story will be key.

The design of food service and eating spaces must encourage social interaction and create a sense of place and community that promotes collaboration and conversation. Seen as somewhere to connect and catch up, dining areas are now becoming multi-use and evolving over the day – blending seating styles that cater for on-the-go snacking, with some softer furniture for afternoon study and, of course, a communal bench to enjoy an evening with classmates. Efficient service will drive revenues but, more importantly, customer satisfaction. Couple this with technology solutions such as an intuitive click-and-collect platform or self-serve touch screens, and the transaction journey becomes a lucrative, seamless, and recognisable experience.

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