How Foodservice Workers Can Help Incoming Freshmen

How Foodservice Workers Can Help Incoming Freshmen

The Impact of Dining Services on Incoming Freshmen

Being away from home for the first time… that’s a scary transition for most people.  As colleges across the nation are easing into their fall semesters, millions of new students (and their hovering parents) are flooding campuses, confirming class schedules and alarm clock settings, and making sure that no toothbrushes were left in the wrong duffel.

But with the buzzing excitement surrounding new stages of life, there are very few students considering just how profoundly their dining experiences will shape their college life.


An imposing academic building - How foodservice workers can help new freshmen


Shifting Foodservice Strategies

Many colleges and universities are beginning to rethink what it means to feed their students.  The “cafeteria life” model is quickly going the way of penmanship classes, and is evolving into something that better reinforces the community life of the student body.

Instead of the traditional rows of mobile folding tables, many campuses are rearranging their seating to better reinforce collaboration and inclusivity.  They offer both comfort-oriented seating for informal meals among friends, as well as more functional seating to help students get work done.  And rather than forcing students to choose from a pre-determined list of daily specials, they now have trained chefs on hand to offer greater variety and customization.

But space design isn’t the only facet that foodservice operations are capitalizing on to better serve their customers…

The Power of Employee Behavior

It doesn’t take much to help new students cope with such a challenging time.  They’re going to be stressed out, getting used to a new routine, living with strangers, attending bigger classes than they’re used to, and trying their best to forge new social connections.  A kind word can go a lot further than you might expect.

Dining employees have a unique opportunity to make a positive impact.

Here are a few ideas:

  • Simply ask how their day is going
  • Take the time to ask their name and where they’re from
  • Remember their usual order
  • Smiling and making real eye contact

It might seem small, but these sorts of interactions can cut through the haze and make a real difference in the lives of students.


Casual male student at college looking happy - How foodservice workers can help new freshmen


Building Relationships between Students and Foodservice Staff

As a former operator, there was no better feeling than watching the demeanor of a student change after an interaction with a foodservice worker.  So often that single interaction grew into an ongoing relationship: a worker knowing when to ask how a test or project turned out, or a student growing concerned when their favorite worker was out sick.

These sorts of relationships don’t just serve to increase the happiness of the student body, but also the job satisfaction of the staff. It’s a win/win.

It’s not unheard of for students to know and ask for an employee by name, or ask to see pictures of their family, or insist on hearing stories about their recent vacation.  Students are primed to include staff in their day-to-day interactions as they fall into their new routine.  But it takes a dining worker to make that first step, to be aware of how they are dealing with new students, to intentionally reach out.

Can a college or university dining operation accomplish the task of feeding the student body without taking the time or making the effort to really help new students feel safe in their new surroundings?  Of course.  But while it did accomplish the task, that doesn’t mean that it was successful.

It’s up to each worker to be open, and each manager to foster the environment where this kind of help can take root and thrive.

It doesn’t take much to make a difference.



If you’re interested in learning a bit more about how you can optimize your college or university foodservice operation, check out our page on promoting dining services to increase student recruitment.