The Surprisingly Positive Impact COVID-19 Has Had on Campus Dining

May 25, 2022

Campus Commerce

The COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically affected the dining experience on college and university campuses.

Everyone involved in the process - students, parents, administrators, and all other stakeholders - have had to make adjustments and decisions that have altered the student experience. In many cases, it’s reduced labor burden and increased revenues.

While there were struggles in the beginning, the flexibility that the pandemic demanded sparked a new wave of creativity across college campuses. These new innovations have enhanced day-to-day campus life and have made major strides in improving the student experience, and these advancements are here to stay.

With the largest changes coming to dining halls, partnerships with third-party vendors and acceleration of available technology solutions altered the traditional landscape. Here to stay are point-of-sale offerings that integrate campus card payments for meal delivery services, food lockers, pick-up services, and even off-campus dining.

What was created out of desperate need is now elevating campus dining experience for students..

Covid’s Impact on Dining Halls

Dining halls have seen some of the biggest changes on college campuses. They are high-touch areas but are also required by students and play an essential role in generating profits for universities. They often needed dramatic operational changes to maintain the health and safety of students, faculty, and staff.

As the pandemic progressed, it became obvious that sanitizing stations and mask mandates wouldn’t be enough to keep everyone safe. Administrators needed to do more, and get creative in finding a way to give students access to safe, convenient dining options both on and off-campus. 

A few Universities Set Examples

With just over 19,000 undergraduate students, the University of Pittsburgh undoubtedly needed to find a solution to safer dining options.

With culture and community being a large part of the student experience, safe dining options served as both an opportunity and a challenge. As the restaurant community around them suffered, university leaders saw an opening to support local dining options, continue to generate profits through campus dining cards, and provide diverse experiences to students.

Instead of investing in bringing additional restaurant concepts to campus, the University of Pittsburgh partnered with 28 local restaurants to provide additional dining and delivery options.

This solution benefited three groups:

  • Students were able to use their campus cards to pay for off-campus dining
  • The university was able to continue to profit through use of campus cards
  • Local restaurants were generating business during economic uncertainty

Campus Dining

The creativity of the administrators at the University of Pittsburgh provided a safer alternative to attending the dining halls, strengthened the community, and added to the culture that is critical to the school’s mission.

Creativity Leads to Success

The University of Pittsburgh is just one example of the creativity of administrators providing students access to safe, convenient dining options, both on and off-campus. Similar programs have been wildly successful across the country.

Students have loved and benefited from the convenience and large variety that comes with partnering with members of the community.

As an additional bonus, these programs have mitigated overcrowding in heavily trafficked campus dining halls - furthering the efforts to create safer environments for students, faculty, and staff.

At the same time, Tufts University took an alternative, yet equally innovative, approach. Instead of encouraging students to use off-campus solutions, they led a movement that eliminated in-person ordering by deploying mobile ordering for all of their dining locations. 

Their solution not only reduces the number of bodies in a single place at one time, but the use of mobile ordering lowers loads on staffing while increasing the average dollar amount per order.

What I find interesting is that multiple campuses have approached me to drive to a mobile only solution for ordering. While covid-19 undoubtedly sparked these changes, it’s clear these varied approaches to providing dining services has left a lasting impact on the traditional dining landscape and student experience.

Third-Party Partnerships

As seen in both of these scenarios, finding alternative solutions to campus dining issues has sparked partnerships and technologies that bring increased options and flexibility for students.

However, partnering with local businesses to allow the use of campus cards in the community is just one of the many innovations taking shape to improve the student experience.

Using a closed-loop payment system to integrate with campus payment systems, big companies are making strong connections with universities.

A few of the partnerships and solutions allow students to use their campus card funds to make purchases, either through an integration with the native POS system, or the vendor’s app. A few examples include:

  • Apex Order Pickup Solutions
  • Starship’s Robotic Delivery Service
  • GrubHub’s Meal Delivery Services
  • Panasonic Smart Food Lockers

These third-party partnerships are giving students a unique experience and generating income for universities - it’s a win-win-win situation.

Transact Can Help You Navigate and Implement These Opportunities

recent study showed that 25% percent of students postponed college due to covid concerns, and some are still pushing off higher education. These numbers mean that now, more than ever, upholding and improving the student experience is of the utmost importance.

Transact keeps the student experience at the center of focus when building ways to improve your campus. Our Campus Commerce solutions and Campus ID solutions provide a secure, mobile-centric campus environment with contactless student ID credentials for effortless, campus-wide transactions and access privileges.

Campus Dining

As the demand for innovative on and off-campus dining continues to grow, Transact is preparing to be the bridge that unites universities and colleges with third parties.

From inside the dining hall and out, our campus ID solutions are:

  • Improving the student experience
  • Helping generate income for universities
  • Supporting communities and building campus culture

Learn more about how Transact can improve your campus dining experience at