Food delivery is an integral part of the college experience. Here’s how your RDS can become the campus favorite.

The busy season for restaurant delivery services (RDS) aligns perfectly with the academic year. If you’re in a college town or near a big campus, you’ve probably noticed that school is back in session. You may be wondering how to turn those students into customers.

Ordering takeout is integral to the college experience, so much so that it’s practically a cliche. Many late-night study sessions and hangouts are fueled by food delivery. With the right strategy, you can become the go-to RDS for your local college or university campus. Here’s how:

Drop off flyers or coupons on move-in day.

Don’t discount the power of paper on a college campus. Even though most things are digital, paper coupons and bulletin boards have yet to fade away entirely. Call the student services or residential services and ask if you can bring over some coupons. Even if students don’t actually use them, they’ll see your brand. This is a valuable touchpoint and can lead to business down the road.

Stay active on social media.

Social media has been part of Gen Z’s lives since they were very young. Most of them are active on at least one or two platforms, such as Instagram or TikTok. If you want to engage with them in their space, you need to be active as well.

However, there’s an art and a science to using social media to engage with Gen Z. Here are a few tips:

  • If you take a neutral stance on human rights issues, you could lose their business. Social responsibility is incredibly important to Gen Z, and they don’t have much patience for brand neutrality. If most brands are speaking up about an issue or event, you should be too.
  • Gen Z has no patience for brands that try too hard to be cool. Unless one of your younger employees can confirm that your meme idea is funny, don’t do it. It’s okay to skip the snark if you can’t pull it off. If you make one too-lame joke and a screenshot goes viral, you may struggle to shake that reputation.

However, your RDS also has an advantage with this generation. Gen Z doesn’t place much trust in big brands, often preferring to patronize smaller businesses. As a smaller RDS, you are inherently more appealing to them than one of the big guys. Be transparent about the fact that you’re a small business, supporting local restaurants and workers. They’ll notice.

Sign up to sponsor campus events.

Student clubs and organizations are almost always looking for sponsors to offset the costs of their events and activities. Thankfully, the price tag for these events is usually pretty reasonable. A couple hundred dollars is all these groups need to cover the costs of food, t-shirts, or a few decorations. You may find it’s a totally reasonable price to pay to get your brand in front of hundreds of students. Plus, if your sponsorship includes logo placement on a t-shirt, you’re pretty much on campus forever.

Check the school’s website for a few clubs or teams that catch your eye. You may choose one based on what’s personally important to you. Or you might just go for the most popular groups to boost your exposure. Keep an eye on that club’s social media activity and see if they’re looking for sponsors. You might even send them an email directly and ask them to keep you in mind. The odds are good that they’ll jump at a chance to bring you on board.

Another thing to consider: Freebies. College kids love free pens and beer koozies and other odds and ends. Ask if you can drop off a bag of tchotchkes with your logo and website for members and events. It may help to keep you top of mind.

Figure out which restaurants are most popular among students.

Are any local restaurants a big hit with the student body? Is there a pizza place or bagel shop that makes most of its money off college kids? Ask around and see if you can figure out who the campus favorites are.

Those places should be your targets for striking up a partnership. If they already have a loyal student fanbase, then you’ve already got your foot in the door. You can earn your own superfans by giving students a way to order up their favorites without leaving campus.

Ask your younger team members for ideas.

If you run an RDS in a college town, you probably have a few students on your payroll already. Don’t be afraid to ask them directly for their ideas. You might even offer them a small stipend—maybe $25 or $50—to brainstorm with you for an hour. They’re your experts on how their peers think about food delivery and where they like to eat. Plus they can help you make sure your social media presence is cool and not, as the kids say, “cringey.”

Not sure where the students are? Plug your zip code into this tool, and it’ll give you a map of college campuses near you.

Do you have other ideas for marketing to college students? Tell us in the comments!