How to serve the current generation of student diners.

Hint: customization, convenience, and ‘clean eating’ options are key.

Gen Z—the generation born between 1995 and 2010—now makes up the majority of student diners across the country.

Unlike the preceding generation, Gen Zers are more ethnically diverse, grew up in an entirely digitally-connected age, and are more willing to spend extra on authentic food or dining experiences. Furthermore, this group is even more globally-aware than millennials, and is considered an outwardly politically-, environmentally- and socially-conscious generation.

university dining space

In reaction to these attributes, food service programs have begun formulating creative solutions to keep young diners satisfied with their daily experience in the university cafeteria. Unsurprisingly, technology—as well as an increased focus on healthy, clean food and beverages—has played a huge role in the creation of Gen Z-friendly dining spaces,    

Here’s a list of 5 ways university dining halls are adapting to Gen Z’s dining habits and interests:

1. Increasing customization across the board

From a variety of meal plan options to DIY bars, customization is key when it comes to menu planning for Gen Z diners. According to the 2016 Generational Consumer Trend Report, 50% of Gen Zers rated the ability to customize their meal (i.e. choosing a portion size or some of the ingredients) as an important aspect of dining.

This, however, does not require you to deconstruct every entrée into a build-your-own bar: simply increase and vary the types of sides that you serve with your mains. Another strategy is to pick a night in which your dining hall is not too busy, and set-up a small cooking station where one of your line cooks can cook smaller, specialty plates with seasonal ingredients.

salad bar cafeteria customization options

A similar approach can be applied to your cafeteria’s beverage offerings: allow your diners to customize their morning coffee by creating a mini-coffee bar with specialty milks and a rotating inventory of flavored syrups. Alternatively, you can offer healthy flavored drinks with Bevi, the smart water cooler, which would allow your diners to customize your beverage on a touchscreen before filling their glass.

So, the next time you start planning your menus, be sure to consider a few ways your diners could personalize the items you decide upon.

2. Optimal convenience in the form of digital student IDs

Industry research has shown again and again that convenience is a top priority for consumers of all ages, and is of a particular importance to millennials and Gen Zers. Many food service programs are embracing this trend by expanding the methods by which diners can gain entrance into the cafeteria or purchase their food.

apple watches can now store student Id info

Rather than having students keep track of a physical card, many universities are in the process of making their students’ ID information accessible on smart devices. A recent report by Business Insider revealed that starting this fall, students at Duke, Temple, Johns Hopkins, and The University of Alabama (among others) will have the ability to enter the dining hall, and make vending machine purchases, using both Apple Watches (OS 5) as well as iPhones running on iOS 12.

Given the growing ubiquity and convenience of smart devices in today’s world, initiatives such as these will likely become increasingly popular in the food service industry as a whole.

3. Sparkling water and low-calorie beverages

Gen Z Using Laptop Drinking Water Bevi

Nowadays, it seems as though every other TV commercial is advertising a different kind of sparkling water. This is due to the fact that in recent years there’s been a nationwide decrease in soda consumption, and a corresponding increase in demand for healthier alternatives. Younger generations, like Gen Z, are no longer interested in sugary carbonated drinks, opting instead for sparkling water, with or without flavors.

Rather than going the traditional route (i.e. filling plastic jugs with water and sliced fruit), cafeterias have started investing in sparkling, flavored water machines, such as Bevi. This smart water cooler makes it easy to meet the growing demand for healthy beverage options, without putting any extra strain on your food service staff. At the press of touchscreen, students can customize their drink, adding flavors or fizz to their liking. Bevi boasts a well-rounded portfolio of zero- and low-calorie flavors and is outfitted with software that allows for the pro-active monitoring of consumable levels.

young student drinking bevi

In short, Bevi is a win-win situation: students get the bubbles and customization they want, while the food service team will have one less thing to monitor.

4. Organic, clean eating and ‘trendy’ bites

Like sparkling water, the demand for “clean” or organic food is on the rise across the US. According to The NPD Group, the majority of Gen Z considers “clean eating” a significant way to improve one’s quality of life. As compared to other consumer groups, this generation expresses a heightened interest in organic and non-GMO foods. They are also more open to trying new styles of dieting, including vegetarianism and paleo, as well as ‘trendy’ foods.

breakfast bowl healthy food

Generally speaking, keeping your dining hall’s offerings up-to-date with the latest trends isn’t as tricky as it seems: simply plan to reserve a portion of your weekly budget for seasonal or trendy foods before the school year begins, and incorporate these items into your usual salad or DIY bar.

How can your food service program meet the demand for healthy, ethically-sourced food? Aside from seeking out local or organic food vendors, more than 20 universities in the US have formally made the Real Food Campus Commitment, in which they pledge to use “their tremendous purchasing power to support a food system that strengthens local economies, respects human rights, and ensures ecological sustainability.” A national, student-led initiative, the Real Food Challenge truly embodies what today’s college students expect from campus dining services.

5. Greater transparency across the board, in the dining hall or on a mobile app

Given Gen Z’s heightened interest in environmental and social issues, many dining halls have started sharing information regarding the sourcing of their ingredients.

Most dining halls already have a mobile app that allows students to check the breakfast, lunch or dinner menu in advance; now, many are adding tracking and sourcing information to their apps as well. In this way, students can explore the nutritional information of their favorite mac & cheese dish, while also learning which local farm provides the tomatoes in the salad bar.

digital signs in a cafeteria

Food service staff are also creating the same level of transparency within the servery space itself. From posters explaining sustainable fishing practices to digital signs displaying the amount of food waste produced each week, there are many ways to display information that will help connect students with their food.

Start Your Own BYOB initiative with Bevi

Often times, the Office Manager is on the front lines of a continuous battle between those employees who value convenience and those who prioritize environmental impact. From balancing the office’s budget to fielding all types of employee complaints, the Office Manager is almost always stuck between a rock and a hard place.

As with any daunting task, it’s best to start small. And implementing a Bring Your Own Reusable Bottle initiative is a great place to start.

Rather than stocking and restocking sky-scrapers of plastic cups in your kitchen, reduce your plastic waste exponentially by encouraging employees to take their favorite canteen into work with them. This BYOB approach will not only save the Office Manager time, but save money — money that can be reinvested in something everyone in the office will love, like fruit or snacks!

Don’t left the office kitchen battles continue: check out these 5 tactful ways to get everyone on board — and even excited about — the new BYOB initiative.

Green Strategy #1: Form an eco-minded task force

Form an eco-minded task force

Remember: there’s strength in numbers.

Whether you’re an Office Manager or an environmentally-conscious employee, it’s best to have a team of people behind you when proposing a new and drastic change to life at the office.

Don’t face the rebuttals and complaints alone. Gather a squad, inform them of the change and its rationale, and let the company know that there’s a whole group of excited employees ready to answer any questions that may come up.

Especially at larger companies, where it’s unlikely everyone knows each other on a first name basis, try to involve a few people from each department in your sustainability task force. Employees are more likely to trust and support the people they work with everyday than a faceless email announcement from someone they’ve never met.

Before kicking-off your BYOB program, be sure to form a squad of people who can help hype up its positive, environmental impact, as well as field any comments or concerns different departments may have.

Green Strategy #2: The long distance relationship

Is this your recycling bin? Looks like it’s time to get Bevi.

For some offices, getting rid of plastic cups might be as simple as never buying them again. In other offices, however, the transition might not be as smooth. If you’re worried about an impromptu employee mutiny, there are several ways to ease your office into a more zero-waste approach to water cooler talk.

After launching your BYOB program, try leaving only a small stack of plastic cups in plain sight. Chances are, many folks won’t go looking — or won’t know where to look — when the stack disappears. This will help to incentivize people to bring in their bottles, since having to find and restock the plastic cups is more effort than carrying your own bottle. You might get some annoyed comments about the lack of cups over Slack, but stay strong! Tell these folks where they can find more cups, but don’t restock them yourself.

If your office isn’t equipped with reusable glassware, keeping an emergency pack of single-use cups on hand is kind of a must — especially if you frequently have visitors. In this case, stash the solo cups away in a secret cabinet or drawer, and reveal them only when you’re expecting guests.

In general, if the BYOB initiative is more controversial than you planned, relieve separation anxiety by making the transition from plastic cups as gradual and reasonable as possible.

Green strategy #3: Get custom bottles made for your office

Office Hydration Bevi

If you’ve got the budget, this is a no brainer.

What better way to launch your BYOB initiative than to purchase a personalized or company-branded (or both!) reusable bottle for each of your employees.

Many companies that are both getting a Bevi and moving into a completely new office space like to include reusable bottles as part of a ‘Welcome to Your New Office’ gift for each employee. Broadly speaking, moving into a new space is the perfect occasion to put new, eco-friendly systems in place!

While not every office has the funds to purchase bottles for everyone, there are many work-arounds. Water proof stickers are a simple and affordable way to get employees hyped about showing off their newly decorated reusable bottle around the office. Have your designers create a whole series of stickers to pick and choose from, or get everyone a decal of their name. Another solution is to work with your team to select and design a bottle that people can order on their own if they so choose — this works well in offices in which most people already have a favorite bottle, and may not need the company topurchase one for them.

Once your custom bottles arrive, encourage folks to leave them at work. With shiny, new reusable bottles on their desks, the die-hard plastic cup users will surely become BYOB champions.

Green Strategy #4: Reinforce — and reward! — positive behaviors

Shoutouts on Namely

At Bevi, we love giving shoutouts over Slack or in our HR portal, Namely.

Ever heard of intermittent reinforcement conditioning? If you haven’t, all you need to know is this: it works! As foreign as this term may sound, chances are it’s something you’re already doing in the office. Each time you randomly give a shoutout to an employee over Slack, you are using the power of intermittent conditioning to motivate and reinforce positive behaviors!

The true beauty of intermittent conditioning lies in the fact that you only have to reward behaviors occasionally in order to reinforce them. In knowing that they might get recognition for their positive behavior, employees will start to make good habits part of their normal routine, whether it’s helping to clean out the fridge or bringing their reusable bottle into work.

Don’t take this the wrong way: we’re not suggesting you treat your co-workers like Pavlov’s dogs!

All we’re saying is that highlighting or rewarding someone who has brought their reusable bottle into work is a really great way to motivate that individual — and others — to keep your BYOB initiative going strong.

Green Strategy #5: Proudly share positive results

Cheers to reusable bottles

A toast, to all those who use a reusable bottle. Cheers!

Similar to Green Strategy #4, keep your BYOB program top-of-mind by frequently sharing how it has positively impacted your office and beyond.

In addition to a company-wide email or appreciation post, go big and briefly share results in the next All Hands meeting. If eliminating plastic cups has saved you enough money to buy more snacks for your office, put a sign on the fridge or water cooler explaining how the new treats are the fruits of your office’s collective labor!

For companies that have an explicitly environmental mission, your newly instated BYOB initiative could be a great occasion to brag about your company’s awesomeness on social media. Some companies might even opt to highlight an eco-warrior of the month; in other words, give a shoutout to an employee that has gone above and beyond when it comes to keeping things green at work.

Whether you’re a small startup or an international corporation, a Bring Your Own Reusable Bottle initiative is a simple and effective way to reduce your office’s footprint.