MIT Releases On-Campus Retail Dining Study
This past spring, market-research firm The Pulse Group analyzed several retail eateries on MIT’s campus in the context of sweeping changes affecting the restaurant business. Like so many restaurants, campus eateries are still feeling the impact of pandemic-driven changes such as decreased foot traffic, altered eating patterns, and pressures on staffing, supply chains, and food costs. The Pulse Group review included extensive engagement encompassing a community survey and in-person interviews with students and staff.
Focusing on evolving customer preferences, changes to demand, and historical operating trends, the Pulse’s report will inform strategies for moving MIT's on-campus retail dining portfolio forward in a more financially stable and sustainable manner.
Pulse examined the performance of Bosworth’s Cafe, Steam Café, Forbes Family Café, Deans Beans, Koch Café, 100 Main Street, and Hayden Courtyard Café, which are among 14 campus eateries managed by Bon Appetit, Restaurant Associates, and High-End Foods. The overall challenges these and other retail eateries face are driven by competition from the increasing number of off-campus food options adjacent to campus and lingering effects of the pandemic, particularly a significant decrease in the number of people eating on campus. Average monthly transactions at MIT retail eateries decreased by 42% between FY 2018 and FY2022, and MIT’s retail dining business losses are increasing.
All MIT community members were invited by Pulse to participate in the survey this past August, with about 2,000 students, faculty, and staff responding. Overall, respondents indicated that they seek off-campus dining options primarily for affordability and variety. Fifty-six percent of respondents said that campus retail dining fell below their expectations or didn’t meet their needs. Almost a quarter of total respondents said they did not spend any money at on-campus retail eateries compared to 14% who did not patronize off-campus restaurants.
Quick-service food outlets in Central and Kendall Square better align with respondents’ expectations for customer service, fresh/healthy food options, portion size, and value. Eateries like Chipotle, Cava, and Sweetgreen resonated well with respondents. When asked about off-campus dining preferences, undergraduates said that taste was a deciding factor while graduate students indicated that value was important. Faculty and staff cited the proximity of eateries to their work location as a key factor when eating off-campus.
Fifty percent of respondents said they would like to order from an app, and would likely purchase more food from on-campus retail establishments if they could order and pick it up at a time convenient for them. Despite strong interest in an app for ordering food on campus, 84 percent of respondents said they did not know of MIT Dining’s Get app, which expedites ordering and pickup from select on-campus eateries.
Recommendations & Next Steps
Based on survey results and other data, Pulse recommended the following strategies for on-campus food retailers:
- Focusing on customizable, quick-service concepts
- Increasing authentic, quality offerings
- Building catering business further
- Creating more self-service venues
Suggestions for retail dining should be emailed to email@example.com.