Food has greater play in colleges today.

Lenny CondezioLeonard D. Condenzio, FCSI COO/Executive Principal, Ricca Design Studios, Greenwood Village, Colo.College students today have ever-increasing expectations of the food at their desired university. Today's students view food as one of the many amenities, much like they see residence halls. What was acceptable a few short years ago in terms of authenticity and diversity is not enough to meet expectations or needs today.

The question now becomes how to prepare for the next several waves of students.

Increasingly knowledgeable customers coming to the table with ever-growing expectations put a tremendous challenge on operators and designers — an exciting one — to ensure dining programs remain nimble while also telling the story of the food and backing it up with information. Information, good solid information, about anything we do in dining will be important. That means understanding the campus demographics and what the students have been requesting in recent years and building on those opportunities to develop a foodservice program responsive to those needs. To me, this serves as the foundation in how we program and design a facility where everyone can be successful.

While today's college and university foodservice operators have been delivering stellar dining experiences, we still need to go beyond just the food and create an environment of community around food. That experience has its roots in a tradition thousands of years old: breaking bread amongst company. Use food and that idea of breaking bread to build new, lasting and memorable relationships. Understanding students' unique backgrounds and perspectives will become even more important for incoming generations, which will be the most diverse in our country's history.

Even More Authentic

There's still a cultural component of college and university foodservice that I don't think we've quite yet completely embraced in terms of authenticity. Moving forward, college and university foodservice operators must embrace the right equipment, combined with the right expertise, to truly respect the culinary expectations of students from other countries. The industry has progressed tremendously toward this goal, but in general, college and university foodservice operators still struggle with authenticity and meeting the palates of the overall student body.

The trend of the teaching kitchen or demo kitchen can be an incredible medium and a place for people to demonstrate pride in their cultural cuisine. As a bonus, participants all learn some things culturally as an offshoot. That will develop into a mainstay in the same way salad bars evolved.

Another venue in which to foster cultural communication is the concept of pop-up restaurants that use plug-and-play equipment, a concept that exists now in micro-restaurants and action stations.

Designing for equipment swap out and functionality of the space will be critical going forward. Designers and operators need to work collaboratively to create something that can change with minimal expense, with the ultimate goal to provide many choices with fewer venues. I think of it in the same way that a theater keeps the same bones, but reinvents and changes out sets for every play.

It circles right back to that idea of breaking bread.