As students return to college campuses this fall, food service businesses are finding that their dining habits are finally beginning to look more like they did before the start of the pandemic.
For instance, Newport Beach, California-based fast-casual giant Chipotle Mexican Grill, which has more than 3,000 locations across five countries, observed a return to 2019 behavior on a call with analysts in July discussing the brand’s second quarter financial results.
“For the first time in three years, [we] saw kind of normal college seasonality, meaning the college restaurants really performed exceptionally well during the school year, because they were all in-person,” the brand’s Chief Financial Officer Jack Hartung said. “And then we saw seasonality that we haven’t seen in three years, where the college students go back home [over the summer] and they tend to eat less.”
But college students in 2022 are not the same diners they were in 2019. The food industry has shifted dramatically toward digital channels, with younger consumers leading the charge.
Research from the July edition of PYMNTS’ Digital Divide study, “The Digital Divide: The Move To The Metaverse,” which drew from a May survey of roughly 2,700 U.S. consumers, found that 94% of Gen Zers express interest in using technology to make the ordering experience smoother.
Moreover, research from the January edition of the study, “Digital Divide: Minding the Loyalty Gap,” which drew from a census-balanced survey of more than 2,400 U.S. adults, found that about 6 in 10 Gen Z consumers engage with restaurants’ loyalty programs, well above the populationwide average.
As such, many businesses are looking for ways to meet these younger consumers’ demand for tech-powered convenience on college campuses. For instance, in June, Grubhub announced that after a spring pilot test at Ohio State University, the company is making its partnership with self-driving robotics company Cartken available to colleges across the country.
The aggregator has existing partnerships on more than 250 U.S. college campuses.
“Robot delivery is exciting for students and helps provide even better service and innovative solutions to our campus partners,” Eric Harper, senior director of campus environments at Grubhub, said in a statement at the time. “We look forward to supporting our university partners and responding to their unique delivery environments as we roll out this technology at other campuses in the coming months.”
Additionally, in April, DoorDash announced the launch of DashPass for Students, a lower-cost version of its membership program created for college students, which offers free delivery and other perks for a flat monthly rate.
“Access to convenient, fast and affordable ways to get everything you need is key for busy students on the go,” Kofi Amoo-Gottfried, chief marketing officer at DoorDash, commented in the news release. “With the launch of DashPass for Students, we’re excited to change the game for students with a plan that’s designed specifically for them and provides access to everything from late night study snacks and grocery items to school supplies and dorm essentials.”
More details: DoorDash Woos Gen Z
Plus, college sporting arenas are getting the digital treatment as well. On Wednesday (Aug. 31), on-demand delivery brand ASAP (formerly Waitr) announced the return of its partnership with the University of Alabama to enable mobile food and beverage ordering at Bryant–Denny Stadium, home of the school’s football team, with the new addition of beer and wine pick up options.
“Alabama has one of the best game-day atmospheres in the country, and we’re excited to be back to enhance that experience with the new ASAP platform,” ASAP CEO Carl Grimstad said in a statement. “In our first year, fans told us they loved ‘skipping the wait’ at concession stands throughout Bryant-Denny Stadium, and we believe the new beer and wine service will be every bit as popular.”