Seven ways to evaluate your partnership and program


If your school works with a managed food service provider, you already know that partner plays a key role in your school’s overall financial and operational success. Just like any other partner or team member, it’s important to evaluate your food service provider regularly to not only measure their effectiveness but also brainstorm and identify areas for improvement and growth. Your relationship with your managed food service provider should be an ongoing, ever-evolving partnership with shared goals. 

At the end of the day, student satisfaction, quality nutrition, and your school’s bottom line will give you an accurate picture of how well your dining program is performing. But how do you evaluate those areas?


We’ve put together a quick list of seven ways to evaluate your food service provider on an ongoing basis. 

1. Regular Communication.

Maintaining open lines of communication with your food service provider is crucial to your program’s success. A solid partner will welcome feedback from students, staff, and other stakeholders, take any problems or concerns seriously, and ensure that issues are addressed in a timely and efficient manner. Feedback is fuel for growth: regular check-ins can provide valuable insights into the quality of the meals, food safety concerns, or areas of improvement.

Your provider should: 

  • Communicate regularly and openly with you and your staff
  • Provide ongoing opportunities for feedback
  • Be open to constructive feedback

 2. Clear Performance Metrics.

Establishing clear, concrete performance metrics is essential to tracking your food service provider’s success over time. These metrics may include food quality, food safety, customer satisfaction, cost efficiency, and more. When you and your provider agree on shared metrics and tracking methods, you’ll be able to identify areas for improvement, such as menu variety or student satisfaction. 

Your provider should: 

  • Meet with you to regularly establish and adjust metrics
  • Set regular reviews with your team
  • Be open to reporting on metrics, with procedures in place for gathering accurate data

 3. Financial Reporting

Financial reporting is a critical indicator of your food service provider’s performance. Regular financial reports should not only demonstrate that your provider is operating within your school’s budget but also identify any areas for cost savings or improvement. As the client, you should expect the financial reports to be accurate, timely, and comprehensive.

Your provider should: 

  • Offer transparent financial reporting (so you see their side of the book, too)
  • Provide accurate, timely, comprehensive data
  • Present strategies for ongoing cost savings and efficiencies with your operating budget in mind

 4. On-Site Observations

From casual pop-ins to scheduled walk-throughs, personally observing your food service operation can give you a clear picture of its day-to-day performance. Are meals being prepared and served appropriately? Do they look appealing? Are students getting the options and nutrition promised? On-site observations can also provide an opportunity to gather candid feedback from students and staff, which can be valuable in identifying areas of improvement.

Your provider should: 

  • Welcome observational visits, even unannounced
  • Be open to constructive feedback
  • Deliver consistent, high-quality performance

 5. Review Contracts and Agreements

As with any partner, you should regularly review the contracts and agreements with your food service provider to ensure you are both meeting your obligations within the partnership. Regular reviews also help you stay on top of changing needs, keep contracts up to date, and in some cases, can help you meet specific grant or funding requirements. 

Your provider should:

  • Offer regular contract reviews
  • Offer insights for evolving arrangements according to your needs
  • Be familiar with their contractual obligations. 

 6. Menu Evaluation

Regular reviews of your provider’s menus can provide valuable insight into the variety and quality of meals your students receive. When you review menus with your food service partner, evaluate each for nutritional value, variety, and appeal. How often do dishes rotate? Which are most popular, and which don’t sell as well? Assess your program’s menus regularly and provide your partner with detailed feedback to make improvements or changes.

Your partner should:

  • Provide accurate nutritional information for all menus
  • Incorporate variety into your program
  • Make regular adjustments based on food trends, student and staff feedback, and budget 

7. Student Surveys

Student opinions can be the most valuable – and overlooked– asset when it comes to a successful dining program. Conducting student surveys provides a first-person window into the quality of meals and service provided by your food service provider. Your food service partner should be interested in the student experience: their favorite and least favorite meals, the quality of service, and cleanliness of the dining area, for example. They should also have concrete plans for using that feedback to make improvements and adjustments to the food service program to better meet customer preferences and needs.

Your partner should: 

  • Conduct regular student and family surveys
  • Make improvements based on results
  • Demonstrate how they incorporate feedback into day-to-day operations


Every school environment is unique, with different norms, expectations, challenges, and traditions. Whether you’re already under contract with a managed food service provider or are shopping around for a partner in this area, establishing clear performance and review metrics is a key part of a healthy relationship and a successful program. Setting specific goals and expectations not only creates an opportunity for you to track progress and hold each other accountable but also helps build a stronger partnership through clear expectations and goals. 

If you manage your own food service program in-house, setting metrics and regularly assessing your program is just as important – perhaps even more so. Setting review criteria for your own program can help you understand how well it really performs and where you can improve. Regular, consistent evaluations can also give you crucial data to help you decide whether or not it makes financial and operational sense to bring in a partner to help in the future. 

Ultimately, food service is about providing your students the best possible dining experience and making the most of your investment in your school. Measuring performance is the best way to know if your program truly makes the grade.