Following that logic, I assumed chains might also save universities money. Brands gain loyal customers by having locations on college campuses, so I thought they could be paying schools for this access.
I thought wrong. After franchise fees and other costs, branded restaurants are 7 to 10 percent more expensive for my university to operate than generic ones, according to Dave Annis, the associate vice president and director of housing and food services at Oklahoma.
He also said it’s worth it.
“Ten, 15 years ago, food service wasn’t even in the top 10 reasons you would pick a university,” Mr. Annis said. “Current studies show food services are in the top three reasons a student picks a university. Having a competitive food service helps us recruit.”
Grand Canyon University, a private Christian school in Phoenix, helps demonstrate the correlation between amenities like broad dining options and recruiting. Over the past several years, the school has increased its offering of brand-name restaurants on campus relative to non-franchise options. The school has also seen huge gains in enrollment in that span, from under 1,000 students on campus in 2009 to just over 20,000 in 2018.
“There’s always that balance in school, trying to figure out where you’re going to eat,” said Gwen Massett, who graduated from Grand Canyon University in December with a degree in digital film. “It really comes down to making the time to cook or buy food. Realistically, though, a lot of students end up eating at Chick-fil-A, Subway or Taco Bell.”
There are no franchises on campus at John Brown University in Siloam Springs, Ark. The school is much smaller than Oklahoma and Grand Canyon, with just under 2,000 students on campus. “The licensing costs and royalty fees, infrastructure costs and supply chain logistics can make it cost-prohibitive with limited enrollment,” Christine Blaha, the school’s food service director, wrote in an email.