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When you operate a restaurant in a university town, learning how to market to college students is critical. Students have a unique set of concerns, perspectives, and preferences — in other words, they respond to different marketing tactics than other consumer groups.

Ready to dive into higher education marketing? You’ll need to understand college student priorities, learn how to use social media to market your brand to young adults, and find out how Grubhub can help you accomplish your off-premise dining goals. 

Understanding college student behavior: what does this group care about?

To create marketing campaigns that resonate with college students, you must first understand what’s important to them. With that information, it’s easier to position your restaurant in a way that appeals to their schedules, convictions, and core beliefs.

Today’s students are a part of Generation Z; research shows that this demographic prioritizes sustainability, inclusivity, and technology. And because they’re college students, they’re also interested in convenience and affordability.

Your restaurant can meet these needs by:

  • Focusing on sustainability. According to the Pew Research Center, 67% of Gen Z sees the climate and sustainability as a top priority. To bring in college students, highlight your restaurant’s environmentally friendly practices. You could showcase your reusable or biodegradable to-go containers, for example, or explain how your recycling and composting programs reduce waste.
  • Being genuine. College students are highly skeptical of brands that claim to be perfect. For example, 88% of Gen Z consumers distrust brands’ environmental, social, and governance (ESG) claims. They’re also masters at uncovering the truth online, so make sure all your claims are genuine. Reinforce this authenticity by interacting with customers in a way that’s both honest and personal.
  • Using social media. McKinsey found that 39% of Gen Z purchasing decisions are influenced by social media. Get your restaurant in front of them and boost brand awareness by expanding your social presence, posting consistently, and creating special student discounts for followers.
  • Making ordering easy. College kids have a lot going on. If they’re not in class or studying in the library, they’re probably working out at the campus gym, meeting with friends, or trying to get some much-needed rest. Make it easy for them to order from your restaurant — and then, get their food to them as quickly as possible. Over time, they’ll come to rely on your services.
  • Highlighting delivery. During a busy day of classes and meetings, students don’t always have time to run out for food. If they can order delivery from your restaurant — especially using a familiar, convenient app such as Grubhub — they can stay fueled and productive.
  • Investing in ads. College students are always online; use this to your advantage by adding Google Ads and social media ads to your marketing plan. With programs such as Google Analytics, you can track the clicks from each ad to determine what works best.
  • Sending regular emails. Gen Z might not use email as much as previous generations, but they still respond well to email marketing. About 53% of young people prefer to receive marketing emails about once per week. You can use these emails to announce daily specials, promote sales, or invite students to events.

While digital marketing is effective for college students, it’s important to embrace traditional techniques, too. Capture their attention when they’re on the college campus by putting up flyers in dorms, libraries, and the student union. You can also extend each advertising campaign to university publications such as theater playbills, campus newspapers, or sports programs. These in-person marketing efforts can make a powerful impact and help you stand out from the competition.

Social media marketing for college students

Social media platforms are the most valuable marketing tools for your brand, especially when you’re trying to reach college students. Use these tips to create a successful social media restaurant marketing strategy for a higher education audience:

  • Use the right platforms. There’s no need to be active on every social media platform — instead, invest your time in creating content for the platforms that are most popular with local college students. TikTok and Instagram are popular with student users. In fact, 40% of young consumers use these platforms as search engines. However, just 32% of teenagers use Facebook.
  • Interact with student users. College students prefer to buy from brands that engage with them in a real, authentic way. Don’t bother with platitudes in your social media marketing; make students feel seen by commenting on their social media posts, reposting their content, and having conversations via DM. Don’t be afraid to be funny, and react to criticism with thoughtful, action-oriented responses. 
  • Share your values. Student consumers like to choose brands that are aligned with their values. In fact, they often demand that companies respond to controversies and current events. Share your restaurant’s views on social media, especially when it comes to things that are important to students: inclusivity, sustainability, and social responsibility. Done well, it can supercharge your restaurant marketing.
  • Do student giveaways. For a college student on a budget, nothing’s better than free or discounted food. Get more followers, boost brand engagement, and promote your restaurant on social media by hosting giveaways. You could host a caption contest, for example, or encourage people to react to a new menu item.
  • Recruit student ambassadors. Identify your most loyal student customers and ask them to be brand ambassadors. In return for special discounts, these ambassadors can market your restaurant on their favorite social media channels. This is a great way to reach young people who haven’t yet discovered your restaurant.

Current students are just one part of your target audience — prospective students matter, too. Start cultivating the next generation of customers by reaching out to high schoolers and their parents through content marketing. When a local higher education institution is hosting preview weekends, campus tours, or orientation sessions, you could post about a special family meal deal to attract new diners. If those potential students enroll, they’ll already be familiar with your brand.

Connecting with students on Grubhub Campus

Did you know that over 270 colleges and universities across the country are partnered with Grubhub? Grubhub Campus connects students with on-campus dining options, giving students a more convenient way to order from their favorite spots.

Here at Grubhub we are dedicated to expanding our diner reach, including students. That’s why we offer free Grubhub+ to students who attend a partnered university. If your restaurant is located in or near a partnered university, signing up for Grubhub can give you instant access to students who are eager and frequent orderers.

Major in food delivery using Grubhub

Getting your restaurant on college students’ radar can boost business throughout the school year. When you’re marketing a brand to busy college students, a great delivery system is a must — student audiences are all about convenience.

To get food to students as fast as possible, use Grubhub. Customers can order in minutes and schedule a delivery for any location. Grubhub delivery drivers are quick and efficient, so they can transport food quickly for late-night student study sessions, after-class munchies, or delicious meals away from the campus dining hall.

Ready to skyrocket your campus business? Try Grubhub free for 30 days.