≡ Menu

Restaurants Find Growth Opportunities in On-Campus Locations

Today we’ll talk about a different foodservice segment: on-campus dining.

Last month, Nation’s Restaurant News spoke with restaurant brands that have on-campus locations and learned that these restaurants see their campus operations as their testing grounds and growth vehicles towards new operations and service techniques.

The NRN talked to representatives of brands with on-campus operations, such as Einstein Bros., Denny’s, Bojangles’ Famous Chicken ‘n Biscuits, Beef O Brady’s and Moe’s Southwest Grill, to share how they are performing and whatever lessons they learned from putting up their branches inside higher-education grounds.

Charlotte, N.C.-based Bojangles’ Famous Chicken ‘n Biscuits started its initial on-campus location at the University of North Carolina-Greensboro first week of November, and their first-week sales exceeded $50,000. “We were quite happy with the results, considering that the unit is just approximately 600 square-feet,” said Eric Newman, executive vice president of Bojangles’. “Such performance means that college locations have great potential to be a helpful tool towards rapid brand growth.”

Denny’s is set to open five locations on higher-education campuses this year, which will both be food court units and fast-casual counter-service restaurants. “We have opened eleven university units since 2010 and are quite excited about putting together our pipeline for next year and beyond,” said John Miller, chief executive of Denny’s. When it comes to campuses, Denny’s deal with two kinds of franchisees: contract food service companies, like Sodexo, Aramark or Compass, and universities.

Einstein Bros. Bagels is another chain that has become an increasing presence in higher-education campuses across the country, with 65% of its total 240 locations situated at universities and colleges. “Our recent openings include locations at the University of Wisconsin, the University of Virginia and the University of Arkansas,” said Jeff O’Neill, chief executive of Einstein Noah Restaurant Group. “These latest openings provide a good, steady expansion opportunity for us.”

Paul Damico, president of Moe’s Southwest Grill, has also been used to ringing up hefty sales figures in smaller spaces at universities, with the belief that campus restaurants are incremental in their company’s expansion. “Nearly all brands want to do this because we gain access to lifelong consumers at an early age,” said Damico. “Students are knowledgeable diners who know what food is good for them and which food they want, and they’re prepared to shell out more money for those we have in our menus and superior menu holders. It just makes it a lot easier that we are part of their meal plan.”

For James Walker, Beef O’ Brady’s chief development officer, on-campus units are sometimes the only areas where restaurants are given enough traffic and ideal locations. Beef O’ Brady’s opened their first on-campus location at the University of South Florida this year, and they are pleased with the results. “We think that we now have substantial track record that would allow us to leap towards more opportunities on campus in 2012,” said Walker. “We are value-oriented, and it’s exactly what the students are looking for—value in the food that our menus and menu holders offer, as well as great sports.”

Most of the chains cited are operated by food services companies Aramark, Sodexo or Compass, while some are self-operated.