This fall, about 20.5 million students will be enrolled in U.S. colleges and universities, where they will encounter sophisticated and diverse campus foodservice options. Of course, that won’t keep them from occasionally visiting off-campus restaurants, where they’ll have strong expectations about taste, price and quality.
A new study of college-student eating habits and expectations conducted in July 2016 by Boston marketing agency Fluent has some unexpected findings, including that most students polled said organic, vegetarian/vegan and gluten-free options are comparatively less important determinants in choosing restaurants or ordering.
The majority (65%) of student surveyed said they eat on-campus most of the time, while 22% eat off-campus most the time and the remaining 13% fairly splitting their dining destinations fairly evenly. What are students who go off-campus looking for most? Good food, yes, but also “socializing.”
The opportunity to eat something different from their routine is also a strong goal of off-campus dining, and 77% said they try to eat new menu options t least once a month. A smaller majority (59%) said they can persuaded to try something new if a discount or deal is involved. But 48% said they’re not going to try a new menu item at a restaurant brand they don’t normally frequent.
The majority (52%) of students polled eat in restaurants two to three times in a week; 33% said it’s more likely just once a week. That leaves 22% who dine off-campus most of the time.
The average spend per visit is between $5.01 and $10 for 48% of the students polled. Another 35% usually spend as much as $15 each time. Less than $20 said they would spend $20 on a visit. Note that students were specifically asked about meal occasions and not visits only for beverages.
“The next wave of consumers starts with a higher set of expectations for engagement than past generations: food that is tasty yet affordable, made with quality ingredients, and a social environment,” said Fluent EVP Michael Carey. “In changing strategies over the past few years, QSRs set a new bar for themselves. Even a quick meal is an opportunity to relax, gather, engage or find quiet time, and enjoy. ‘QSR’ is a far more accurate label for what this demographic is looking for than ‘fast food.’ ”
Some scoffed when Wendy’s CEO Todd Penegor suggested during this month’s quarterly earnings call that the presidential election may be depressing restaurant sales. But the National Restaurant Association (NRA) says he was correct.
Said Penegor, “When a consumer is a little uncertain around their future and really trying to figure out what this election cycle really means to them, they’re not as apt to spend as freely as they might have even just a couple of quarters ago.”
Now comes research conducted by ORC International for the NRA that finds 31% of adults say they have become less confident in their personal spending as a result of the U.S. presidential campaign during the last few months.
Women are more likely than men to say the election is dampening confidence in spending; consumers in the Northeast and those with annual household incomes below $35,000 are most likely to say their spending confidence has declined. The data: