The Growth of Fast & Casual on College Campuses

By Brian Harris

Fast-casual concepts are expanding more and more in the college campus market. Larger companies and restaurants are tapping into a growing market with a customer base that can make or break a company’s future. Sit-down restaurants are also using fast-casual as a way to brand their larger, more traditional formats.

Pei Wei, a fast-casual branch of the franchise P.F. Chang’s, is proof that larger franchises and companies are making it a priority to cater to a younger generation that wants to be served fresh food faster. Pei Wei’s first college campus opening at Arizona State University provides quick service to customers in a busy location. In the long run, the format will also promote the P.F. Chang’s brand outside of campus.

“The strategy behind us wanting to be in universities is we’re always looking to be in venues that build awareness of our brand, especially in markets where we’re not yet,” said Paul Damico, president of Moe’s Southwest Grill, told QSR Magazine.

Pita Pit is another example of a fast-casual chain finding success on college campuses like the University of Wyoming and University of Massachusetts Amherst, where a new customer base turns over every four years. Pita Pit generates constant and consistent revenue, and also attracts non-students.

There are two lessons to learn from college campus formats:

1. Establishing loyalty with customers is extremely important. The key to foodservice loyalty is maintaining a clean and healthy store that keeps customers coming back. Remember: A college dive bar might be fun, but ultimately, most people don’t want to have a meal there.

2. Keep up with technology to stay ahead of the competition. The tail end of the Millennial generation, or really Generation Z, currently populates college campuses across America. They have access to more technology than ever befor. Digital menu boards, mobile ordering and delivery options, and social media outreach are just some of the strategies that can resonate with a younger generation of consumers who grew up using computers.

In terms of tech-savvy chains, look for farther than Starbucks, which has locations on college campuses across America. In fact, Starbucks has gained something of a cult status by becoming the highlight of final exams week.

Who can forget this Frozen parody filmed on a college campus?

Don’t forget your employees! You might want to consider empowering your college-aged employees through mobile technology. To learn more, check out our blog post, Using BYOD to Empower Your Retail Employees.

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