Today's Students Demand Changes in College Foods

August 27, 2003

Wes Griffith


American eating habits and trends are a hot topic. Fast food companies are seeing lawsuits materialize against them, an increasing variety of diets are being tried, and the topic of eating disorders is continues to gain steam. All this "food" talk has caused colleges across the country to ask, "What do we feed these consumer-conscious college kids?"

Many universities recognize a brand-conscious generation in the 18- to 24-year-old demographic and provide campus food courts with predominantly fast food chain restaurants. This makes it easy for busy students to eat on the run. While offering popular fast food chains on campus has garnered some success, it is by no means the ultimate solution when it comes to getting the attention of young adults' appetites.

In a 2000 poll, college-bound high school students nationwide were asked to choose their favorite among 10 fast food chains. The survey was repeated in 2001. The comparisons reveal a drastic shift in the eating trends of the demographic. In one year McDonald's went from receiving 24.6 percent of the vote to 12.8 percent and Burger King dropped from 15.8 percent to 9.1 percent. Subway, however, jumped from 6.5 percent to 18.3 percent.

Subway's low-cal claim is credited for the franchise's success. When looking at the newest dining trends on college campuses, it seems that Subway's "Eat Fresh" slogan and made-to order serving technique is what makes the sandwich-maker so popular among college students.

Or so it would seem when looking at Mercer University's newest campus dining facility. Last year Mercer debuted a completely renovated dining hall to facilitate the Fresh Food Company, a market-style campus restaurant conceived by Aramark, a national leader in food services. Mercer was just the seventh school in the country to employ the food company's highest quality service, which is based on the concept of display cooking.

Display cooking, the latest buzzword on the campus dining circuit, seems to have caught on quite well with the students. It provides students fresher meals "made to order" and lets them feel more in control of what they are consuming.

Mercer's facility consists of a central cooking area with five different stations and 373-person seating area perfect for studying and socializing. At each station there are cooks or servers taking orders and putting together meals with market fresh ingredients ordered daily. All of the produce is also on display; nothing is prepared or stored in "the back." It is all out front.

The five cooking stations include The Grill, Jesse's Kitchen, World Café, Bistro, Bakery, and there is also a produce market with a variety of fresh fruits and salad choices.

The Grill allows students to watch restaurant-quality burgers and boneless chicken breasts being cooked before them. They can choose how they want it cooked and what toppings they want on it.

The students also love the personal aspect of the experience, saying they enjoy getting to know the cooks who are willing to go out of their way to meet their dietary needs as well as desires.

Jesse's Kitchen and the World Café, however, are the most popular among the students. Jesse's Kitchen, named for Mercer founder, Jesse Mercer, provides some good homestyle cooking. Students have a large choice of vegetables and meat dishes, which often include Southern, Cajun, Asian and plenty of classics—roast turkey, rotisserie brisket, pot roast, pit ham, BBQ chicken, pork tenderloin, shrimp Creole, chicken lo mein, buffalo wings and the list goes on.


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