Author's Note: The article you are about to read does not provide practical information that you can immediately apply to your operations. It is instead the author’s survey of various insights expressed (sometimes in the form of rants) by college operators and customers on their feelings about brands. Our goal is to inform the ongoing and robust debate as to whether the use of branded concepts in campus dining programs is constructive or not.
Our firm surveys collegiate dining programs and their customers regularly, and based on this research, I can confidently say that the vast majority of campuses offer nationally recognized brands in one form or another. So if “everyone” is doing it, why bother debating their use? Well, let’s first look at the most prevalent pro and con arguments we’re hearing on campuses these days and come back to that question …
Why we Love Brands
- National brands can increase customer satisfaction. Operators tell us this all the time and our own surveys indicate that the most successful brands tend to generate higher satisfaction scores than comparable unbranded or self-branded concepts.
- National brands can build traffic and revenue. A good brand can drive traffic to an underutilized building and I have seen this happen on many occasions. Thus, branding can be a realistic strategy for addressing location-specific traffic and revenue shortalls. The addition of a popular brand has can help convert an underutilized lounge or lobby into a hot new campus gathering and hangout place. It is also common to see check averages go up when a new, stronger brand replaces an unbranded or weaker brand concept.
- Corporate licensing and franchise programs offer ease of implementation and systems to support consistent execution over time. This can be a big gain for residentially-oriented dining programs that are seeking to grow their retail business but don’t have the same bench strength in this area.
- The use of bands frees up operators to focus on what they can do best. How many operator-developed concepts can really effectively match or beat the market presence, brand equity, systems and perceived value of the best of the leading brands? It can be done, but it takes a significant commitment of time, resources and talent to pull it off. Often those time and talent resources are better applied to managing the business in other ways.
- Brands tend to keep people on campus and can lead to higher enrollment in voluntary meal plans. Commuter students at most universities can pick from a number of their favorite brands on their way to or very close to campus, so bringing a few of the best onto campus can increase their incentive to enroll in your meal plan and eat more of their meals there.