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Why the student demographic is so important to the hospitality industry

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Why the student demographic is so important to the hospitality industry

students eating

Deciding whether or not to directly appeal to the student market is often a quandary for hospitality businesses. That indecision is partly down to a lack of understanding about students and their spending habits. But there’s also a fear of what encouraging students en masse might bring…

Like over generalisations of any kind, it’s a dangerous place to be and, in the case of students, it can see your business losing out on custom that could be extremely beneficial to your bottom line.

I’ve come to HGEM after several years as General Manager of Revolution in Bath. Students were one of our main markets, and we achieved some real business success by embracing them and making the venue student friendly.

Here are some of the things I learned along the way about students and how you can position your business to appeal to them…

Filling the day-trade gap

If you’re open during ‘working hours’ (Mon-Fri, 9am-6pm), you’ll know how hard it can be to seat a sufficient amount of covers to cover costs and then some. Most people have jobs and many simply don’t have the time, money or inclination to step outside of the office to grab some lunch; not on your average day, at least.

In a recent study conducted by Quorn, it was revealed that office workers only manage to take an average of 16 minutes each day for lunch, due to being time poor.

In comparison, students have all the time in the world. Ok, that’s not completely true, of course, but they’re much more likely to head out for something to eat and drink during the day – often whilst continuing to study on their laptop.

They might not spend huge amounts of money during their stay, but if you accommodate them, you can probably count on their custom time and time again. And they might tune their network of friends in to just how accommodating you are of students, too.

Not all venues are suited to students – if your place serves fine-dining cuisine, attracting students is probably not on your radar. But, if you have a brand and a profile that would appeal to students, then why not?

What appeals to students?

It depends what time of day we’re talking about, of course. But, if you like the idea of students filling seats during the day, then this is what they want:

1. Wi-Fi

This might seem like an obvious one, but as much as anything else, Wi-Fi is great for capturing some of your guests’ details, which is an opportunity that should never be passed up.

Students are prepared to hand over the data on the basis that you provide them with a reliable and quick internet connection so that they can do all the research they need to for studying.

It’s not just students that will see it as a plus point if you offer internet access either. According to a Toast’s third annual Restaurant Technology Industry Report, the most important technology features for guests are online reservations, free Wi-Fi, and online ordering.

2. Accessible pricing

It’s true to some extent that students don’t have a lot of money to play with – you can blame the Government for that with its tuition fee hikes. But they’re willing to spend what they do have (and work for a bit more), as long as you get the price point of your products right.

You don’t have to go super-cheap, students just need to feel like they’re getting value for money.

Perhaps you reserve a timeslot for when items are cheaper or run a student-only deal – combinations always go down well, i.e. food and drink that’s priced significantly lower than if they were bought separately.

It’s a matter of marrying competitive pricing with sustainability, and making sure that there is a real perception of value for money whether it be through quality or an experience.

3. Large spaces

Students often like to hang out in large groups, especially in the evening. They’re simply making the most of having so many of their friends around them – who can blame them? So, in their eyes, the bigger the venue, the better.

If you have the space to accommodate large groups of students, make it known. Not many venues can, or they might be nervous about doing so for fear of disruption. But if you can, you could seriously profit from other venues’ lack of space.

Even when students are looking for a place to study solo during the day, a large space is more appealing, as they can disappear to the back of the room and lose themselves in their work.

Speak to them directly

The best way of generating some insights into what students want from you is to speak to them directly.

Social media is a good place to start as you can somewhat guarantee they’ll be active on one (or more) of the platforms. Facebook Messenger is a particularly powerful tool for getting some sort of response.

But, in terms of seeking feedback, you’ll find much more value in speaking to those students who are already a customer of your venue.

Guest feedback surveys can be tailored specifically for students to determine what’s working and what isn’t. This is something HGEM is an expert in – we help brands create their own feedback websites, allowing them to attract brand engagement, collate guest feedback, track their Net Promoter Score (NPS), be alerted to things that might require attention, build their guest database and influence word-of-mouth.

Guest feedback also prevents you from falling into the trap of tarnishing all students with the same brush!

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