What to Look for in Dining During College Visits

As you plan your campus visits, be sure to check out each school's dining halls--they're more important than you may realize. Here's why.

CEO and President, Porter Khouw Consulting

Last Updated: Apr 26, 2016

When I visit college campuses with my daughter, I’ll be paying special attention to the dining commons. They’re more important—far more important!—than many people realize.

As a foodservice design specialist working with college campuses across the country, I focus on social architecture—the conscious design of an environment to encourage social behaviors that lead toward a goal. In the case of dining commons, my goal is to solidify college students’ connections to one another and foster their commitment to their school.

Both are essential for student success: students who live and dine on campus tend to have higher GPAs and are more likely to graduate. They also tend to be active alumni who stay involved with their school for the rest of their lives.

Here’s what I’ll be looking for when I’m visiting my daughter’s favorite schools:

  • Is there a centralized dining hall (or halls), or are food locations scattered? A dining/learning commons is the living room of the campus, a place where students come together and pause long enough to meet, talk, make friends, see and be seen, relax, study, and collaborate. These are all vital not only to bonding but to learning how to socialize with people from a wide variety of backgrounds in a neutral environment. That will serve them well in their future professional lives! If the meal plan encourages them to scatter across campus – or go off campus to pick up fast food, they lose an important opportunity.
  • What are the hours of operation? Students live on a different clock than most of us. For many students, 11 p.m. is the middle of the day. Is the dining/learning commons open when they need it to be, thus respecting and being conducive to their lifestyle? If so, does it offer more than microwave pizza and hot dogs? If the place isn’t open and offering a good selection of foods when they’re hungry, they’ll go elsewhere.
  • How far is the dining hall from dorms and the academic core of campus? I once consulted with a university that was mystified about why two dining halls got lots of student traffic, while the third—the most beautiful—was largely ignored. When I visited, I discovered the dining hall had been built on top of a rather steep hill on the far edge of campus. The location offered great views, but the climb was a bear! Dining halls and dining/learning commons should be within easy reach of both dorms and classroom buildings in the academic core or students simply won’t use them.

Before visiting a college campus where you could potentially spend the next four years, make a checklist of all the places you need to see and the people you need to meet, and be sure to include the dining halls so you can make sure they're conveniently located and accessible.

Like what you’re reading?

Join the CollegeXpress community! Create a free account and we’ll notify you about new articles, scholarship deadlines, and more.

Join Now

campus dining campus visits dorm life

About David Porter

David Porter, author and social architect, is CEO and president of Porter Khouw Consulting, Inc., a foodservice master planning and design firm based in Crofton, Maryland. One of North America’s premier consultants to colleges and universities, he is the author of The Porter Principles, a guide to college success through social engineering. David has more than 40 years of hands-on food service operations and consulting experience and is a professional member of the Foodservice Consultants Society International. Porter Khouw Consulting has worked with more than 350 clients to conduct market research and develop strategic plans, master plans, and designs for the college and university market. He is a graduate of the prestigious hospitality program at Michigan State University and has been recognized repeatedly as a leader in his field.


Join our community of
over 5 million students!

CollegeXpress has everything you need to simplify your college search, get connected to schools, and find your perfect fit.

Join CollegeXpress
CollegeXpress Logo


Are you our next winner?

Register now for our scholarship giveaway

College Matches