Thanks for Visiting!

Register for free to get the full story.

Sign Up
Already have a account? Log In

College Towns Drive Dining Growth

Lila Margalit
December 5, 2022
College Towns Drive Dining Growth

College towns are bustling once again. After two years during which COVID significantly impacted student routines, most campuses are back to business as usual. And with classes winding down and winter break just around the corner, many students are availing themselves of the various amenities their cities have to offer – both on and off campus. 

To explore the impact university life has on local businesses, we dove into the data for nine well-known college town CBSAs, where students and other university-affiliated people make up a significant share of the overall population: Ithaca, NY (Cornell University); College Station, PA (Penn State); Bloomington, IN (Indiana University); Lawrence, KS (University of Kansas); College Station-Bryan, TX (Texas A&M); Columbia, MO (University of Missouri); Champaign-Urbana, IL (University of Illinois); Ann Arbor, MI (University of Michigan); and Gainesville, FL (University of Florida).

The Rhythms of Life in a College Town

The monthly population fluctuations in these nine CBSAs reflect the comings and goings of a university-centered community. Following smaller drops during the winter holiday season, the towns start to really empty out in May, as many students pack their bags and head home for the summer – and by August, the cities’ populations start to swell once again. But how does the autumn student influx impact visits to local hangouts?

To answer that question, we analyzed visit data for three leading dining chains – Starbucks, Chipotle Mexican Grill, and Texas Roadhouse – all three of which have been outperforming their respective categories nationwide (Coffee, Quick-Service Restaurants (QSR) and Full-Service Restaurants (FSR)).

College Towns Outpacing Nationwide Baselines

When school is in session, these locations significantly outperform their already strong nationwide averages. In September, for example, college-town-based Starbucks locations enjoyed 38.4% more visits per venue than the company’s national benchmark, while Chipotle restaurants in the same areas got a whopping 51.7% more visits. Texas Roadhouse, for its part, exceeded its nationwide average by 25.1%. These trends continued into October and November, albeit somewhat more mutedly, as students settled into their study routines.

Outpacing National COVID Recovery Trends

Universities are also driving particularly robust COVID recovery for restaurants and other dining venues – even for brands such as Starbucks, Chipotle, and Texas Roadhouse that have already rebounded in other markets. 

All three chains have experienced significant recoveries nationwide. But in college towns, their comebacks have been even more impressive. Over the past four months, Starbucks’ college town venues experienced 4.7% more foot traffic than they did in 2019  – despite a nationwide visit gap of 3.6%. Chipotle and Texas Roadhouse – both of which have already exceeded their overall pre-pandemic numbers – also saw greater increases in these locations.

Key Takeaways

The overperformance of these chains in college towns shows that university communities can be major drivers of recovery for a broad range of dining categories. Despite continuing inflationary pressures, which lead many consumers to cut back on discretionary spending, students remain willing to pay for good food and for the experience of eating out. 

For more data-driven retail insights, visit

Get 3 brand & industry
breakdowns every week

Subscribe to the newsletter

Great! Prepare your inbox for data-driven insights...
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.

Get a Demo

Please enter your first name
Please enter your last name
Please provide a valid email
Please enter your email
Please enter company name

Thanks for reaching out!

One of our experts will be in touch soon

Try Free
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
Text Link
Text Link
Text Link
Texas Roadhouse
Peeking Behind The Curtain: Movie Theaters in 2023 and Beyond
Diving Into Brick-and-Mortar Eyewear
Getting Into Gear: Exploring The Auto Part Industry
Recapping Valentine’s Day 2024 Foot Traffic Trends
Fitness: A Strong Start to 2024
Dutch Bros. Continues To Percolate Visits
Super Bowl 2024:’s Postgame Foot Traffic Analysis
CAVA & sweetgreen Are On the Rise
Hats Off For Off-Price
Who Is Shopping at Malls?
Drilling Down Into Home Improvement
Walmart, Target, Costco & Superstore Space 2023 Recap
Catching Up With Shake Shack and Wingstop
Something To Chew On: Demographic Shifts at Steakhouse Chains Office Index: Looking Back at 2023
Recapping RBI & Yum! Brands’ 2023 Foot Traffic Performance White Paper Recap – January 2024
Who Shops at Anthropologie and Urban Outfitters?
Three Taco Chains to Watch in 2024
Starbucks and Dunkin’: 2023 in Four Data Points
Who Visits CVS and Walgreens?
Fashionably Frugal: Apparel in 2023
Catching Up With Fast Food
The Grocery Sector in 2023: An End-of-Year Recap
3 Mall & Shopping Center Trends for 2024
Bakery Chains Rising To The Top and Esri Partner to Deliver Geospatial Analytics
Tampa Tourism Trends
Going For The Green: The Changing Dynamics Of Country Clubs
Christmas Day Dining Recap
Major Urban Shopping Districts – Holiday Season Recap Office Index: December 2023 Recap
Recapping the 2023 Holiday Shopping Season White Paper Recap – December 2023
7 Retail & Dining Segments to Watch in 2024
Diving Into Holiday Season Favorites
Super Saturday and Christmas Eve Eve: A Winning Combination
3 Budget Grocery Chains Finishing 2023 On a High Note
Making It In America: International Chicken Chains Bring The Heat
Domestic Tourism at a Glance: A Q3 2023 Roundup
Five Pizza Chains On The Rise
Jewelry Brands Taking Advantage of the DTC Opportunity
Secondhand News: Kids' Thrift Shops
Recapping 2023’s Dining M&As
MetLife Stadium Kicks Off Football Season Office Index: November 2023 Recap
Small Coffee Chains Brewing Big Success White Paper Recap – November 2023
Thanksgiving Travel 2023 Recap
Checking in With Nike and Lululemon
Black Friday 2023 Retail Recap
Starbucks’ 2023 Holiday Menu & Red Cup Day Performance
Turkey Wednesday 2023
Who Attended the 2023 Pickleball Championship? 
Three Surprising Holiday Shopping Trends
What’s in Store for Ulta Beauty This Holiday Season?
Best Buy and Department Stores: A Holiday Deep Dive
Discount & Dollar Stores: Strength Toward The End of the Year
The State of Off-Price Retail: Discounts Seal The Deal
Placer Mall Index Recap: October 2023 Office Index: October 2023 Recap
Retail Corridors Ahead of the 2023 Holiday Season
California, Here Gap Comes
Checking in With Home Improvement
Getting Into the Glasses Game: Warby Parker Takes Over
Fitness Positioned for a Strong 2023 Finish
White Paper Recap: October 2023
Coffee Giants Brewing Up Business
Popeyes and Burger King Lead the Way
Diving into Yum!
Looking Ahead to Black Friday 2023
Blockbusters Drive Movie Theater Comeback
Crocs and Boot Barn: Shoe-Ins for Success
McDonald’s and Chipotle's Winning Recipe
The State Of Steak: Checking in With Texas Roadhouse
Pleasant Pastimes: Pickleball Potential Proves Potent
Who’s Driving Downtown Manhattan’s Weekend Revival?
Diving into Downtown Manhattan Foot Traffic Trends
Rite Aid: Rightsizing Right
Major League Soccer: Its Die-Hard and Casual Fans
The Anchor Recap: September 2023 Office Index: September 2023 Recap
Placer Mall Index Recap: September 2023
September White Paper Recap
The Consumer Habits of College Students
JCPenney: Rightsizing and Revitalizing
Pent-Up Demand Ahead of October Sales Events
4 Strategies Retailers are Using to Drive Traffic to Their Venues
5 Key Regional Grocery Players Impressing in 2023
Upscale Kitchenware Trending Up
Costco Finds More Room for Growth
Four C-Store Chains Making an A-Grade
National Parks + Outdoor Summer Activities
Diving Into Darden: Summer 2023 Update
The Summer Event Effect
Messi: Massive in Miami
Looking Back on Back to School 2023
The Anchor Recap: August 2023 Office Index: August 2023 Recap Mall Index: August 2023 Recap