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Valley Restaurants Respond to ASU Students Eating Out Less

Published: Monday, September 10, 2012

Updated: Tuesday, September 11, 2012 11:09

Eating Out

Cheap, late-night munchies are a staple during the college years. Any university student can say he or she has had a fair share of Hungry Howie’s pizza or hit up Taco Bell for “fourth meal.” However, some statistics suggest Arizona State University students indulge less in late-night cravings than their peers at campuses nationwide.

GrubHub, a food ordering service that caters to over 300 campuses, unveiled that within the last school year the nation’s largest state schools, including the top “party” schools, have the lowest percentage of late-night food orders. Among those, Arizona State University was ranked at the bottom of the list for late-night dining, right behind Ohio State and the University of Florida. 

Many restaurants depend on these late-night studiers, and partiers, who search for late-night eats and have had to make adjustments to entice the students.

Deborah Topcik, director of marketing for Z’Tejas Southwestern Grill, feels the increasing popularity of the Food Network could make people more interested in cooking their own meals.

“I think younger generations and Millennials are expecting fresh product,” Topcik said. “With all of these cooking shows, people are learning more about food and they can tell the difference between frozen bread and freshly made bread.”

In a world where everyone wants to be a chef, Topcik said restaurateurs must be more observant of these fresh-food expectations.

“We use our actual chicken and we bread it ourselves, and then we fry it," Topcik said. "There aren't many restaurants out there that will give you a chicken that wasn’t frozen.”

Social media can be a surprising factor in encouraging or inhibiting students from dining out as well. Almost every savvy restaurant has a Twitter, Facebook or Pinterest page, and through consistent posts can offer daily specials, promotions, happy hours and inexpensive food choices for students living on a budget. Topcik consistently posts pictures of the newest plates and drinks on Z’Teja’s Facebook and Twitter pages to build a closer connection with prospective restaurant guests.

Jason Ford, owner of Scottsdale's new Kelly's at SouthBridge restaurant, feels that it could be a combination of money, or lack there of, and conformability factors that affect whether or not college students will dine out.

"I think that by nature that groups enjoy quiet, together time," Ford said. “It might be a group of people still, but it's at their house and it's a comfortable environment and they're not necessarily having to be at a bar where there's standing room only and they're having to fight their way through. They want have a nice, comfortable conversation with good food, and I think that's easily facilitated on a budget.”

In order to accommodate and hopefully entice these budget-focused college students, Ford said Kelly’s hosts happy hours, including three- to four-item platters for $10.

Social media and phone applications have become an easy way for students to check for happy hours and cheap meal deals, but Kelly's prefers word-of-mouth marketing.

"We have really taken our time with this place," Ford said. "We're new. We kind of wanted it to be a grassroots, word-of-mouth [effort], because I actually think that's kind of cool."

Ford recognizes Facebook and Twitter are popular among college students and as the school season commences he said the restaurant will make efforts to make its presence known across the many social media sites, including eatery websites.

"Because that age group is so information savvy, especially with the internet, they will go to these sites to find out where to eat that won't break the bank," Ford said. "They want things that are comfortable, familiar and sophisticated but on a budget."

Although it seems the way ASU students eat is shifting toward homemade meals in the comfort of a home living room, when it comes down to it, college kids just want cheap food and good time.

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