Gone are the days of the cinder block dining hall, long lunch lines and unsavory “lunch ladies” slinging sloppy Joes. Today’s school dining program looks a lot different than it used to, and for good reason. To prospective parents and students as well as your existing community, your dining program is a major indicator of your school’s overall culture and value.

Your dining program is a reflection of your school’s value.

A welcoming, comfortable dining experience with healthy, on-trend choices makes a big impact when it comes to recruitment and retention. Your dining program speaks volumes about your school’s priorities, and communicates your value louder than a brochure or presentation can. A well-planned, carefully staffed, expertly run dining program tells students and families that: 

  • Your leadership is willing to invest in your students’ health and well-being
  • Your school cares about students’ overall experience and want to meet their needs
  • Your staff and teachers value your school’s community and culture
  • Your organization is thriving and successful

What makes a dining environment successful?

Optimized Station Traffic Flow

There’s a method to the dining hall madness! Your food service provider should have a strategy for managing traffic and arranging stations to minimize wait times, prevent bottlenecks, and improve the overall dining experience. Kids should spend their time eating and socializing, not waiting in line. 

Efficient Serving Station Setup

Your staff should be able to serve, refill, and manage each serving station quickly and easily, even during peak times. Keeping stations full and food fresh makes all the difference when it comes to participation and traffic flow. 

Overall Aesthetic

Your dining area should be a place your students look forward to being in. It should be comfortable and welcoming; it should feel like a highlight in their day. Adding modern lighting, appealing food presentation, mixed textures, inviting colors, artwork, and even digital elements can go a long way toward making your dining area feel more like a perk and less like a requirement.

Student Choice

Everyone likes to feel like they’re in control of their options, especially kids. Creating separate serving stations, offering a wider array of options, and putting students in the driver’s seat wherever possible at mealtime can make your dining experience more appealing. Being able to choose which stations to visit feels better than standing in line for a one-size-fits-all meal.

Are you listening to students and families? 

Your students’ and families’ voices matter, especially when it comes to nutrition and healthy choices at school. Most students and families are more than happy to share feedback and value the opportunity to make their voices heard. Ask your students and families what options and activities they’d like to see more or less of at your school; get their feedback on new menu ideas or wellness initiatives, and listen to their responses. An honest dialogue keeps your school in touch with the people who matter most, and allows you to support the healthy choices and habits your students and families are working to establish.

Dining Experience and Profitability

Rethinking the way we approach student dining can mean a big shift in your program’s profitability. Simply put, kids who feel good about their dining options are more likely to participate in your program, and increased participation means increased revenue.

Remember: it’s not just the menu that sells the meal plan; your dining environment and overall experience can make or break your dining program’s success. An enticing dining experience makes food taste better, encourages community, and boosts participation across the board.