As a higher ed. foodservice operator, you’ve had to overcome a lot of challenges. And as we gear up preparations for another school year, a new question looms: how have student expectations shifted over the course of the pandemic? 

Luckily, you don’t have to be a mind-reader to figure out what your customers want these days, because we’ve already asked them! Our 2021 Higher Education On-Campus Food & Dining survey polled nearly 900 college and university students to understand how they’re thinking about eating out (or in) ahead of their return to classes in the fall. Here’s what they said.

1. Online Ordering is Here to Stay

Nearly nine in ten students reported that they’d been choosing where to eat in part based on whether online/mobile ordering and payment options were available. In equally high numbers, they confirmed that these preferences will outlast the pandemic. 

  • 87% of students said that online ordering for pickup through a website or mobile app was a very or somewhat important factor when choosing where to eat.
  • 89% of students said they will continue weighting a website or mobile app as a very or somewhat important factor when deciding where to eat, even after the pandemic recedes.
  • 88% of students will still prefer food options with contactless ordering and payment over options that require close contact with servers or cashiers once the pandemic is over. 

Online ordering is here to stay

2. Students May Rely Less on On-Campus Options in the Future

Despite the majority of students who say they either expect or have seen in-person that their schools will take enough safety precautions, students still demonstrated some reluctance to using on-campus dining facilities to the extent they once did. 

  • 39% of students who have not yet returned to campus expect they will use on-campus dining less than they did before the pandemic.
  • 31% of students who have returned to campus are using on-campus dining less than they did before.

Students may rely less on on-campus options in the future

3. Students are in the Dark About Campus Foodservice Offerings

The two most-cited challenges related to on-campus dining were about the food itself, with students complaining about both the quality and variety of food offerings.

With so many campus foodservice operators serving up incredible meals and wide ranges of options, these responses raise the question: Does the problem really stem from the quality of the food itself, or with the quality of communication about what’s on offer? 

  • 36% of students said that the single most challenging thing about on-campus dining was the variety of food options.
  • 20% of students said the single most challenging thing about on-campus dining was the poor quality of food.

Students are in the dark about on campus offerings


As students prepare to resume their college careers in a post-pandemic world, few believe that things will go entirely back to normal. Increased reliance on mobile/online ordering and decreased reliance on on-campus facilities will no doubt pose challenges for higher education foodservice operators.

But these shifts present opportunities, too. By focusing on beautiful, informative online menus and modern ordering and payment processes, operators can meet the moment and tell the story of their food, making it easy and delightful for students to head back to campus and fill up with great meals. 

This blog is the first in a series of articles about Nutrislice’s 2021 Higher Education On-Campus Food & Drink survey results.

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Or, check out our Higher Ed solutions page to see how Nutrislice can help you provide students and staff the meals they love to enjoy.