What you need to know

College and university foodservice is projected to increase to $26.1 billion in 2019, compared to an estimated total of $22.9 billion in 2014. The continued importance of higher education, large Millennial demographic, and increase in Hispanic and Asian populations are predicted to aid in growing the category.

The category’s biggest competitors include both limited service as well as in-home eating, fueled by the increasing concern for one’s health and knowledge of food sourcing and additives. In addition, the white space between on-campus foods compared to off-campus offerings is staggering, especially in regard to popular main dishes and coffee items. For college dining services to be successful, they will need to differentiate themselves from commercial restaurants by providing a dining experience that not only nourishes now, but can provide students with the food knowledge they can take into the future.

This report builds on the analysis presented in Mintel’s College and University Foodservice – US, February 2013, as well as the University Foodservice – US, February 2012 report.


For the purposes of this report, Mintel covers both self-managed foodservice operations within colleges and universities, as well as those run by an outside vendor contracted for dining service management. The data included in this report are sourced to internet users aged 17+ who are currently full-time, in-person college students.

Data sources

Mintel Menu Insights

Mintel Menu Insights provides flavor, ingredient, preparation, and price trend analysis, drawing from the menus of the largest 350 chain restaurants as well as 150 independent restaurants, 50 restaurants run by top chefs, 25 beverage-focused restaurants, and 250 non-commercial foodservice operators including hotels, convenience stores, and schools (elementary, secondary, and college/university).

Sales data

Market Size and Forecast: Based on National Restaurant Association and US Bureau of Economic Analysis

Abbreviations and terms


The following is a list of abbreviations used in this report:

ACV All Commodity Value
BFY Better-for-you
BLS Bureau of Labor Statistics
CDC Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
CPG Consumer Packaged Goods
CPI Consumer Price Index
DPI Disposable Personal Income
FDA Food and Drug Administration
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The following terms are used in this report:

Chain Multiunit foodservice concepts operating under a single brand name, such as McDonald’s or Pizza Hut. A restaurant chain consists of two or more restaurants owned by one person or company. Typically all restaurants in a chain have similar décor and serve the same food.
Consumer unit Defined per the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) as either: 1) All members of a particular household who are related by blood, marriage, adoption, or other legal arrangements; 2) A financially independent person living alone or sharing a household with others, or living as a roomer in a private home or lodging house, or residing in permanent living quarters in a hotel or motel; or 3) Two or more people living together who pool their incomes to make joint expenditure decisions. Financial independence is determined by the three major expense categories: housing, food, and other living expenses. To be considered financially independent, a respondent must be able to provide at least two of the three major expense categories.
Fast casual A hybrid segment of fast food and casual dining, combining the convenience of limited service with the ambience and quality of full service. Defining features include check averages of $6-9; décor that is more sophisticated than a quick service restaurant (QSR); and food prepared to order, with customization of ingredients by patron being the norm.
Fast food Used interchangeably with QSR.
Foodservice All places that prepare food outside the home are included as part of the foodservice industry, including food operations in supermarkets, schools, hospitals, factories, and prisons. Restaurants make up the largest part of the foodservice industry.
Franchise In most franchise agreements, a restaurant owner grants another person or company the right to use the name of his/her restaurant. This right also includes the use of the original owner’s patented products, building designs, and trademarks. In return, the original owner receives a fee. In addition, the franchisee usually pays a percentage of the restaurant’s income to the original owner.
Full-service restaurant Establishments that provide table service. Food is ordered at the table and is paid for at the end of the meal. The segment comprises several subsegments, differentiated primarily by check size. These include family/midscale restaurants and casual dining restaurants.
Independent A single restaurant that is not part of a chain.
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Generations are discussed within this report, and they are defined as:

World War II The generation born in 1932 or before. In 2014, members of this generation are aged 82 or older.
Swing Generation The generation born between 1933 and 1945. In 2014, members of the Swing Generation are between the ages of 69 and 81.
Baby Boomers The generation born between 1946 and 1964. In 2014, Baby Boomers are between the ages of 50 and 68.
Generation X The generation born between 1965 and 1976. In 2014, Generation Xers are between the ages of 38 and 49.
Millennials* The generation born between 1977 and 1994. In 2014, Millennials are between the ages of 20 and 37.
iGeneration** The generation born from 1995 to the present. In 2014, iGens are aged 19 or younger.

* also known as Generation Y or Echo Boomers

** previously known as Post-Millennials, Matrix Generation

In order to provide an inflation-adjusted price value for markets, Mintel uses the CPI to deflate current prices. The CPI is defined as follows:

CPI The Consumer Price Index is a measure of the average change over time in the prices paid by urban consumers for a market basket of consumer goods and services.

The CPI and its components are typically used to adjust other economic series for price changes and to translate these series into inflation-free dollars. Examples of series adjusted by the CPI include retail sales, hourly and weekly earnings, and components of the national income and product accounts. In addition, and in Mintel reports, the CPI is used as a deflator of the value of the consumer’s dollar to find its purchasing power. The purchasing power of the consumer’s dollar measures the change in the value to the consumer of goods and services that a dollar will buy at different dates.

The CPI is generally the best measure for adjusting payments to consumers when the intent is to allow consumers to purchase, at today’s prices, a market basket of goods and services equivalent to one that they could purchase in an earlier period. It is also the best measure to use to translate retail sales into real or inflation-free dollars.

Based on Bureau of Labor Statistics definition.
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