When it comes to supporting college students across the United States, the food services industry can undoubtedly do better…
Loneliness and anxiety are prevalent among university students at the best of times, with academic pressures, financial strains, geographical distance from friends and family, and unfamiliar surroundings each contributing to a decline in mental wellbeing. Throw in the disruptions brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic over the past couple of years, and it’s no surprise that poor mental health among students is at an all-time high.
For example, in a 2021 survey by the American College Health Association, 67% of women and 54% of men admitted to being “very lonely” in the past 12 months. Meanwhile, a report from the US National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine revealed that mental health problems among students are a greater concern than they have ever been and subsequently urged universities to invest more money into student mental health resources.
At Fresh Ideas, we understand that supporting student wellbeing and fostering success requires a multi-pronged approach, and there are lots of things we can do to better support the students we serve. We cannot solve a nationwide mental health crisis, but we can invest significant time and resources to level up our on-campus service offering.
1. Integrating campus ecosystems
Insufficient communication between various on-site services, coupled with a wariness among university administrators towards new technologies sometimes impedes our ability to drive creativity and innovation.
Nonetheless, our teams are committed to establishing a more collaborative environment on college campuses. In doing so, we might foster ecosystems that prioritize the needs and wellbeing of students – providing them with a decent return on investment and setting them up for long-term success.
In most campus dining halls, for example, chefs and staff will have no visibility into the types of people they are serving – their likes, their dislikes, or their preferred dining habits. But if we can gain access to certain aspects of a university’s Student Information System, we can deliver a more personalized experience to the students in our care:
• On a student’s birthday, we can organize a special meal or prepare a cake.
• If we know the hockey team trains on Wednesday evenings at 6 pm before descending on the dining hall for dinner, we can liaise with their coach to ensure that a hot and hearty meal awaits them.
• Reserved or introverted students might choose to visit our dining halls during the less busy periods, when there might typically have been fewer food options available to them. If we can better understand students’ different preferences and routines, we can provide a good range of delicious meals as and when they are needed.
It’s worth noting that there is no need, nor intention, to collect highly sensitive or personal student data. Rather, we want to find new ways to make the dining experience special, memorable, convenient, and supportive for everyone that walks through our dining room doors.
2. Fostering a happy and safe environment
There are several practical steps we can take to enhance the student experience in our dining halls. This includes preparing a wide range of food options, meeting different dietary requirements, and delivering a customized service for all.
In a post-COVID world, the nature of on-campus dining has shifted, which means stringent health and safety measures are particularly important. At Fresh Ideas, we have implemented various initiatives such as our Distance Dining Program, which is designed to protect team members and students alike with features including a no-contact ordering system.
We’ve also observed how students are tending to congregate in smaller and more widely dispersed groups. To accommodate this shift in behavior and dining preferences, we are working to establish pick-up points around campuses and offer dorm delivery options via our automated delivery service. This means students can access our services at all times and in an environment where they feel most comfortable.
When it comes to keeping students safe, COVID-19 isn’t the only important consideration. We know that students have come to expect easy and instant access to the things they want and need, whether it’s a hamburger at 11:30 pm on a Tuesday night, a tube of toothpaste at 5 pm on a Friday evening, or breakfast when they wake up at 1 pm on a Sunday. Various delivery apps and late-night stores can meet these requirements, but there are risks associated with un-vetted and un-registered delivery drivers entering a student campus.
At Fresh Ideas, all employees undergo background checks and we record shift patterns. In addition, by providing students with access to essential items and delicious meals whenever they require them, they need never leave campus for these reasons. It’s convenient, cost-effective, time-saving, and secure.
3. Automating processes
At the end of 2021, the number of Americans applying for unemployment benefits dropped to its lowest in 52 years. This poses significant recruitment challenges for the food services industry and reinforces the importance of investing in effective technologies to support existing workforces.
At Fresh Ideas, we’ve implemented some simple quick-fix solutions, such as floor-cleaning robots, and other more sophisticated ones, including the FreshX app. Via the app, for example, students can place and schedule food orders, customize their requirements, and collect orders from pick-up pods across their campus. The app tracks a student’s order history and dining habits so our team can work to further personalize the dining experience and best meet their needs.
With innovative technologies taking on some of the most repetitive tasks and driving significant efficiencies through the organization, Fresh Ideas employees have time to focus on retaining the warmth and humanity our students have come to value so deeply.