How Social Media Can Bring More Students into Your Cafeteria


As students head back to school this fall, are you and your food service program prepared for the excitement and business of the first few weeks back from vacation? Are all of your data rollovers complete? Have you tested all of your tech to make sure it won’t cause slowdowns in the first days of school? Are you using social media to push your involvement in your school lunch plan?

You may not think of social media as a way to drive participating in school lunches, but some schools are using it to great effect. Take the example of Colorado State University, where the school dramatically improved participation in the meal plan by advertising a certain number of gourmet meals that would be available at a particular time and place.

How can social media benefit your food service program? Let’s take a look.

Promote Certain Items to Increase Student Interest

Let’s say that you have a glut of a particular ingredient in the pantry, and are trying to increase purchasing of a certain dish, so that the supply doesn’t go bad. In the past, you might have made some sort of sign or flyer offering a discount or promoting the item. Try putting it out on social media instead. Tell them how great it is, offer a discount for those who preorder their school lunch, or just increase participation by reminding them of the convenience of the school’s food service program.

If you’re working with a younger student population, you could offer stickers to those who try a new food, like this Farm to School program did in Mississippi.

Increase Online School Lunch Preorders

Encouraging students to preorder their lunches online can save your district a ton of paper, frustration, and planning time. For younger students, the target can be their parents, and for older students, they may be able to complete a school lunch preorder on their own. But however you get the preorders completed, you’ll be able to better plan for the food you have in the freezer, the pantry, and needing to be used. You’ll experience less waste and keep costs down, which can help your food service department run more smoothly for everyone, students and employees alike.

Consider Which Social Media Platforms Are Best for Your District

If you’re tempted to start exploring your options for bringing your food service program’s marketing online through social media, make sure you’re well aware of which social media platforms the kids in your district, or their parents, use. Hardly anyone uses Facebook anymore with any seriousness, especially kids. Colorado State University found the best connections with their target kids through YikYak and Snapchat. They also found useful connections on the subreddits specific to their school.

Talk to the kids in your district, and find out what messages would reach them, then target those services. This way, the message will get where it’s needed.

Don’t Be Afraid to Experiment

For a lot of social media advertising, the only thing it’s going to cost you is time, and the benefits to improving the number of school lunches preordered, as well as the overall participation in the school’s food service program, are huge. By reaching out to students and building connections with both them and their parents, you increase the perception of the program as being interested and involved in the health of the kids you serve. Be willing to try new strategies and new ways of connecting so that new students can find their way into your food service program and enjoy the benefits of healthy meals.

School Lunch Orders – Getting Paid Up Front vs. Getting Paid in the Lunch Line

Pre-order meals

According to statistics, nearly one-third of children between 6 and 19 years of age are considered obese. And a contributing factor is their choosing less healthy foods in school lunchrooms.

To encourage children to make healthier food choices, schools need to consider implementing school lunch preorder and pre-payment programs that can preempt hunger-based, spontaneous selections while eliminating sensory cues like smells and sights. At the same time, preordering of lunch can help schools minimize waste, allow for minimal inventory, and optimize freshness of products.

What are the real benefits of school lunch preorder and pre-payment? We’ve listed them below.

Parents Are in Full Control of Students’ Eating Patterns

With meal preordering and payment, parents and children can decide in advance whether they’re packing a lunch or buying one. As such, they will never have to worry about last-minute treks to the grocery store or conversations like “Where’s my lunch?” ten minutes before the bus arrives.

Students Know What They’re Going to Be Served

When students know what they are going to be served, lunch service itself becomes significantly quicker. At the same time, preordering and pre-payment of lunch allows schools to increase revenue by reducing costs and operating more efficiently.

Studies have shown that for every dollar given for lunch money, only 70 cents gets spent at school. Since meal preordering and pre-payment involves online payments, a cashier is no longer needed. The money ends up in the bank without having to count the drawer, fill out the deposit slip, and run to the bank to deposit it. And parents don’t need to worry about how their child’s lunch money is really being spent.

Upfront Costs Are No Longer an Issue

When getting paid up-front, schools and lunch providers don’t need to be concerned about collecting the cash from the students. Also, receivables are no longer at risk of aging, minimizing collection risk considerably. As consumers, we pay for goods upfront when ordering online, and this can be applied to meal preordering as well.

Lunch Becomes More Organized and Takes Less Time

Paying for meals in the lunch line can be difficult to organize and supervise, especially when every student orders something different. This is not the case when school lunch orders are placed ahead of time: students just go to the lunchroom, and the attendant knows what to serve. There are no decisions to be made, and students don’t have to look for lunch money. Kids can simply pick-up their meal and eat it.

Schools Can Get Out of the Lunch Business Altogether

Schools are not in the food service business by choice. Feeding kids is a necessity. However, many schools choose to opt out of the school lunch order and payment process if possible. Most of the time, contracting with a management company or caterer to make and deliver food is the best option.

In most cases, food is provided by School Board selected vendors. While preordering of meals can solve many problems related to unhealthy food choices, organizers & boards fail to see how they can help with other issues. The food service process can become daunting, and easy solutions get lost in the mix of details. This holds especially true with the combination of order forms, lunch tickets, cash collection, and delivery coordination and reconciliation. Since preordering can help schools save money by eliminating waste, & streamline serving, it also helps students eat healthier.

Preordering and prepayment of school lunch orders will grow as educational institutions become more involved in the health of our nation’s children.

Tips on Becoming a Better Buyer for Your School

Becoming a better buyer for your school lunch program

Acting as a buyer for a school lunch program is a big responsibility. With potentially hundreds of kids to feed, choosing food that is both nutritious, and appealing to a wide variety of kids, can be a challenging task. When you get it right, it can be rewarding and exciting. We’ve compiled a quick list of tips to help you become the best school lunch program buyer your district has ever seen.

Befriend with Your Food Service Distributor

When you’re planning meals that will feed all of the kids in your district, you don’t have time to watch crop forecasts and decide in March whether the dollars that you’re committing to ground beef, for example, will get you the cases that you’re expecting. Your food service distributor, however, absolutely can and does. By talking to them about your needs, you can get a sense, for example, of whether or not you need to transfer dollars to more versatile and less expensive products.

Don’t Forget Storage and Delivery Fees

When you’re comparing commercial bid costs versus USDA costs, it can be easy to forget, and just look at the price of the food. But remember that the USDA billing also includes delivery costs, which can mean that it’s less of a bargain than you think, when compared to your commercial bid.

This is an area where great food service software can help you project your budget cost for different recipes using different suppliers. Plug in all your numbers, and see where your savings really lie.

Keep Costs Down by Avoiding Waste

With many USDA suppliers, you’re looking at monthly delivery, which means that ingredients are often frozen until they’re needed. This is a great way to keep food fresh until you’re ready to use it, as long as it doesn’t get pushed to the back of the freezer and forgotten.

If you can keep track of your inventory, you can better plan recipes that will use up the ingredients in the freezer before their use-by dates, reducing waste and keeping your kitchen costs reasonable. Great food service software should always help you manage your inventory and seamlessly transition ingredients into recipe calculations.

Be Wary of Stale Advice

If you’re browsing industry blogs, and you find someone suggesting that chicken is going to be a great buy this year, or that cheese is the magical ingredient that will stretch all of your meals without bringing up costs, keep a close eye on the dates on the posts. While this advice might have been true last school year, for example, it might not be true today.

As a food service program buyer, it’s important for you to always be ready to change your approach to the program. Of course, to really understand what your recipes cost, and how much is used versus how much is discarded, you need good data to survey. High quality food service software can help you gather that data, so that you’re making the most of your food budget.

School lunch programs in the United States feed almost 32 million children a year, contributing to their overall health, wellness, and education. Kids who are well fed learn better, have fewer disciplinary problems, and in general are healthier. By crafting lunch programs that meet their nutritional needs but are also delicious and enjoyable, school lunch buyers become part of a lifelong relationship with food.

When you and your district choose great software to manage your inventory, your recipe creation, and your billing, you make an incredibly complex job substantially easier.

What tips have made you a better buyer for your school lunch program?