Feb. 3, 2016

Build Brand Loyalty Among College Students

by Food Fanatics Chefs

Millennials are the dining demographic every operator is trying to get into their restaurants. The idea is simple: Get ‘em now, keep ‘em coming back. There’s no better way to learn about this demographic and build brand loyalty than hitting college campuses. Be careful, though. College students can sniff out when you’re pandering. Get ahead with these tips from our Food Fanatics chef experts.


“College kids need it easy,” says Chef Chris Quinn of Cleveland. “They need to get to it in a way that causes the least amount of work for them.” To that end, Quinn recommends restaurants partnering with a college to accept its campus food card. “They can also capitalize on the campus experience by delivering food to dorms. Brand loyalty will follow quickly if students feel it’s easy to attain,” he says.


“Free and affordable is not necessarily the right approach,” says Chef Charles Ramseyer of Seattle. “Millennials want quality entertainment and are always looking for a story.” Ramseyer suggests offering free Wi-Fi, game night giveaways, and student specials on slow nights to get customers talking. If students know Tuesdays are $5 pizza night, they’re bound to come back with friends.

Along with free Wi-Fi, why not offer charging stations for your electronics-obsessed customers? Chef Craig Peck of Rosemont, Illinois, says this is an easy way to tie in social media and loyalty programs. For example, offer the free charging service in exchange for a follow on Twitter or other ongoing marketing initiatives.


Millennials are doing away with the standard appetizer-and-entree way of dining in favor of small plates, says Chef John Byrne of Minneapolis. “College students like to try different foods when they are in groups. Shareable menu options create more conversations—including photos for social media when they are having fun and actually like the food,” Byrne says.


The best way to find out what’s in demand with your dining demographic is to ask them. “My son is a sophomore at Truman State University,” says Chef Rob Kotomos of St. Louis. “What’s big for him and his upperclassmen friends are bottomless appetizers for a set price and inexpensive drink specials on set days of the week.”

Chef Steve Afflixio of Tampa, Florida, says his college-aged son swears by smartphone apps. “He wants be able to order, eat healthy, pay, and have it all tracked in a loyalty program through his phone,” Afflixio says.


Younger diners are very tuned in to the current food movement, so make it worth their while to spend money. Focus on a few local or hyper-local products and use them across the menu, says Chef Matthew Dean of Streator, Illinois. “Build up unique products and highlight why those ingredients are better,” Dean says. “Tie it together with a dining space that’s sociable, comfortable, and inviting. Oh, and don’t forget the free Wi-Fi.”

How are you building brand loyalty with college students? Share your tricks on Facebook.

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