6 Ways to Encourage Students to Dine on Campus

6 Ways to Encourage Students to Dine on Campus

Gone are the days when basic food options would satisfy college students. Because food is an essential element of the on-campus college experience, dining halls must keep up with the new needs of students. As a result, colleges and their hospitality partners have the unique challenge of curating inviting and healthy environments for students.

When choosing a college, the dining hall has a significant impact on a student’s decision. Many colleges use their dining halls as recruitment tools to portray how they meet students’ needs. If you want to know why students may avoid campus dining halls and ways to encourage them to eat on campus, continue reading!

The Real Reason Students Aren’t Dining on Campus

Often, college students purchase expensive meal plans before they even step foot on campus. So, why do many avoid dining on campus? The answer lies in a few distinct reasons.

Long Lines

Walking up to the campus dining hall and seeing a long line would turn away even the hungriest of college students. Long lines are one of the biggest reasons students aren’t dining on campus. When students are in a rush between classes or crave a quick snack before heading to the library, seeing a long line can dash all their plans and drive them to seek other food options.

Lack of Diversity

For a first-year college student’s first week of college, the novelty of choosing and purchasing their own meals makes them excited about dining on campus. Without a parent to tell them they can’t have ice cream for breakfast or to eat their vegetables, they’re liable to take full advantage of on-campus dining. However, after a few weeks, the novelty wears off.

Along with warnings about the “Freshman 15,” college students may quickly tire of the same options day after day. Students will look to other options for their meals if the dining hall has a limited selection and offers almost no or few diverse choices. Even the pickiest of students want a bit of change in their diet.

Restricted Meal Times

Restricted Meal Times

Many dining halls maintain scheduled meal times that don’t always work with student’s needs. Having set breakfast, lunch and dinner meal times can make transitioning between menus and meals easier, but it’s less convenient for students who need dining options 24/7. With classes, sports practice, clubs and studying, college students are on the go at all hours, so they need dining options that don’t restrict their schedule.

Lack of Healthy Options

Another major factor in why college students don’t dine on campus is the lack of healthy options. Chicken fingers and french fries or pizza and soda are good comfort foods, but they can be heavy as everyday options. Most students want healthy dining options that will fuel them to study and perform their best.

While most dining halls have salad bars, incorporating more healthy options into the regular menu can get students to eat on campus more. Having fresh produce available and crafting delicious, healthy meals are a must.

Price Point

Going to college incurs enormous expenses, and campus dining is no exception. Meal plans can be costly, so if students don’t think they’ll find the options they want on campus, they may forgo buying a meal plan altogether. Even if they do purchase one, the high price of meals and food items may prevent them from dining on campus.

Food insecurity is another issue college students face at surprisingly high rates. Among community college students and four-year colleges, students face food insecurity at a rate of 50% and 47%, respectively. For dining halls to combat this serious issue, having healthy, affordable options is a must.


More often than not, college students work while they eat. A busy, loud dining hall isn’t conducive to studying or doing work, so they may forgo on-campus dining to choose a quieter cafe or library. Additionally, having no clean surfaces for laptops or outlets to plug in devices is a significant hindrance to eating on campus. The dining hall should serve as both a meeting place and a study environment to fulfill all students’ needs.

6 Ways to Encourage Students to Dine on Campus

6 Ways to Encourage Students to Dine on Campus

When thinking about how to encourage students to dine on campus, it’s essential to keep their needs and lifestyle in mind. College is a unique experience, and regular work hours don’t necessarily exist on campuses. Students need dining options that are reliable, flavorful and nutritious on a schedule that works for them.

1. Provide Round-the-Clock Options

One factor in the reliability of on-campus dining is round-the-clock options. Since college students work and live according to very different schedules than the average person, they need food options that suit their lifestyles. From early morning breakfasts before swim practice to late-night study snacks, providing opportunities for 24/7 dining is essential.

According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), college students’ most active hours are traditionally between 8 a.m. and 11 p.m. However, some students are active through the night due to studying, activities or social engagements. If the dining hall closes at 8 or 9 p.m., some students are left without reliable food options, and they may not be able to afford to eat outside their meal plan.

Even if the main dining hall has to close, keeping campus dining open throughout the night in some capacity gives students options for whenever they need a meal or a nourishing snack.

2. Create Food Experiences

Food doesn’t have to be boring. College students are eager to try new things and expand their horizons, so offering food experiences can enhance their dining hall visits. In addition to providing healthy options around the clock, dining halls can keep students engaged and provide opportunities for connection by:

  • Celebrating diversity with a festival including foods from around the world.
  • Inviting students to suggest their favorite dishes for a student-choice meal.
  • Offering up raffles and prizes for students to participate in.
  • Hosting special events for holidays and important school days.
  • Supplying students with free food during exams.

Like with most gatherings, centering events around food can bring people together. Creating food experiences for college students can open many doors and even make them more likely to dine on campus.

3. Meet Student Service Expectations

Another key factor in encouraging students to dine on campus is meeting their service expectations. Today’s college students grew up in a technology-filled world. They’re accustomed to having almost anything available at their fingertips, which is why they may not be satisfied with set menu options. Build-your-own and do-it-yourself stations are essential in drawing college students into the dining hall.

Allowing students the option to decide what goes on their plate will make them more inclined to eat on campus. Additionally, these interactive stations can offer unique experiences for college students to try new things. While build-your-own stations may take longer to navigate than other stations, students will certainly take advantage of the opportunity to interact with their food.

4. Be Smart with Serviceware

Serviceware can be a considerable expense — and a huge mess during peak hours — but it’s necessary. Not everyone has the time to sit and eat, so dining halls have to provide options to-go. However, these options can lead to a lot of waste. College students are often supportive of socially conscious initiatives, so it’s smart to keep the planet in mind as you design your dining hall experiences.

Some ways to be smart with the necessity of serviceware include:

  • Providing recycling bins around the dining hall.
  • Using compostable to-go containers and silverware.
  • Posting educational materials about how to recycle properly.
  • Discouraging the over-use of plastic and food waste.

5. Evaluate Lines

The BLS also found that out of the 24-hour day, college students spend only one hour on eating and drinking. If they only have one hour to purchase food and eat it throughout the whole day, it means they’re likely going to forgo a long line and either skip their meal or buy a small snack somewhere else.

Evaluating lines and making efforts to cut down on wait times during peak hours shows students you’re working to meet their needs. College students need to have the proper nutrition to perform at their peak throughout the day. Reducing their wait time in lines can ensure they’re able to fuel themselves properly.

The best strategy for reducing lines is tracking the busiest hours throughout the day. Most colleges have a few different class lengths, but peak times frequently occur in the middle and at the end of the day. Be prepared during these peak hours to streamline the process — for example, placing menus in prominent locations can ensure students are ready to order when it’s their turn, cutting down on wasted time.

6. Maintain Diversity

Today’s students are more diverse than any other generation, and they’re looking for diverse food choices. About 43% of students say they’re more likely to eat in their dining hall if more varied options are available. Today’s college students represent one of the most diverse classes in history, and they want their food to reflect that. Offering numerous dining hall menu options, such as authentic dishes from regions in Asia, Europe, South America and Africa, will draw more students into the dining hall.

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Creating a Comfortable Campus Dining Atmosphere

On top of offering fresh, healthy and diverse food choices, college students expect dining halls to maintain an atmosphere conducive to their life on campus.


The best place for a dining hall is right in the middle of campus. Rushing to and from class, college students seek food options that are convenient for their daily schedule. They may only have 15 minutes between classes to grab a snack, so having dining options that are centrally located to their classes and activities is essential.

Additionally, when students return to their housing at the end of a long day and prepare for a night of studying, they want options close to them. Having dining halls in or very close to dorms is an integral way of getting students to choose to dine on campus.



Visibility in dining halls is a safety and a social concern. Interrupting sightlines can mean security and other staff can’t see if an emergency is taking place, and it also makes the space feel closed off. To ensure students can interact with each other, opt for open-concept dining and maximize sightlines so seated students can see the room around them. More visibility will also make it easier for dining staff to assess the numbers in the hall and operate lines effectively.


Since colleges can’t redesign their dining hall facilities every year, the best style is timeless and classic. Designing the space with college students in mind means focusing on flexibility and convenience, but that doesn’t mean it has to be purely functional. Colors have an important impact on our psychology and mood, and they’re an essential design element.

Incorporate colors such as:

  • Red: To stimulate or excite — it also has the added benefit of promoting metabolism.
  • Yellow and orange: To reflect happiness and creativity and promote mental activity.
  • Green: To promote nature and freshness — green tends to lend the feeling of a healthy lifestyle.
  • Blue: To evoke a feeling of freshness and calm.
  • Black: To portray a level of sophistication or elegance.


A dining hall must adapt to the needs of all students. Some may want a quiet study area, while some might want to gather with friends and others may need special considerations like allergy or accessibility options. Including allergen-free zones, accessible design and a variety of seating and table options make the space adaptable to the needs of all students, which will encourage them to eat on campus.

Variety in Seating

Having a variety of different spaces for students will encourage them to spend time in the dining hall. Students often have to find any available corner to study, especially if library space is competitive. While most restaurants want to turn tables over, dining halls have a different objective — providing seating options for students to gather and study is essential in drawing them in.

Technology Support

Providing technical support is also crucial to draw students in. Since students use personal laptops and tablets to study and watch shows on the go, design the space to have enough available outlets and reliable internet connection. In addition to wall outlets, successful spaces have innovative technology like tables with individual power sources and phone charging stations. Providing the necessary support for students can encourage them to dine on campus.

Excite Students With On-Campus Dining Solutions From American Dining Creations

American Dining Creations is a boutique hospitality partner operating on college campuses. We provide unique culinary experiences that meet students’ needs by implementing quality and innovation into our hospitality services. Priding ourselves on our fresh, nutritious and customizable meal plans for college campus dining halls, our commitment to excellence shines in everything we do.

Students will love dining on campus with our innovative technology solutions that make wellness and payment options easier than ever before. We have a passion for great food and we customize our services to the individual needs of our clients. To enhance and refresh students’ on-campus dining experience, contact American Dining Creations today.

Excite Students With On-Campus Dining Solutions From American Dining Creations