Chartwells Higher Education, a foodservice management company, announced today it has launched its ghost kitchen program for college and university campuses. Chartwells has already piloted the program at a handful of schools, including Seattle University, SUNY Buffalo State College, the University of Utah, the University of Texas at Dallas, and San Jose State University.
Working with these schools, Chartwells developed several new meal concepts appropriate for delivery. For example, the company worked with Seattle University to open a ghost kitchen that tested 12 rotating entrees and desserts, which students could order via the existing Chartwells mobile app. Since most of Seattle University’s physical campus was closed during Fall semester 2020, the ghost kitchen pilot also served as a test for how colleges and universities can provide students with food even when dining halls are shuttered. Meals were available for both delivery and contactless pickup.
Chartwells said more than 24,000 orders were placed via its mobile app within the first month of the Seattle University test. Terry Conaty, Resident District Manager at Seattle University, said in a press release that the partnership was a “win-win” because it provided students with “lots of new menu options without having to add additional personnel resources or compromise our social distancing guidelines.”
Chartwells serves more than 300 campuses. The company says this ghost kitchen program will add to rather than replace existing dining options. The idea is to take advantage of any underutilized kitchen space on campuses that can be turned into ghost kitchens.
Historically, few would have called college and university campuses hotbeds for food tech innovation. That has slowly started to change over the last few years with the rise of apps like MealMe and Good Uncle (the latter of which was acquired by foodservice giant Aramark), the presence of delivery bots on campus, and Gen Z’s inherent familiarity with a more tech-driven eating experience.
Nor is Chartwells the only company bringing ghost kitchens to campus. Last month, hospitality platform C3 joined forces with Graduate Hotels to put more ghost kitchens in college towns.
The ghost kitchen format is an obvious fit for the college and university market. Students eat meals at all hours of the day and night, a schedule the traditional dining room’s hours don’t typically accommodate. And on the note of dining rooms, there’s no telling whether the traditional cafeteria-style setup will exist once classes shift back to the physical campus. Social distancing will have to be considered when it comes to those spaces, and some students may not feel safe eating in a dining room. Colleges and universities will have to provide alternative options, including pickup and delivery.
Schools, too, are brimming with underutilized kitchen space. For smaller campuses, a few would suffice when it comes to serving the entire student body. For larger schools, one can imagine a network of ghost kitchens placed strategically around the campus, each serving different sets of dormitories and apartment blocks. Meals ordered from campus ghost kitchens could even count as part of a student’s meal plan, which would be considerably cheaper than someone having to order from DoorDash every night.
When schools go back in session very much depends on each individual institution. Many are doing hybrid online-offline sessions right now. The many new food options for students seem geared towards both accommodating these fluctuating schedules and a bid by schools to keep pace with the changing times for foodservice.