The landscape of school dining has changed considerably over the last several years, with students and families expecting more customized options for service and nutrition that meet their specific needs. 

As a seasoned managed food service provider, we can say with confidence that “Grab and Go” style serving stations have been game-changers for our K-12 private school clients. Self-serve options have helped our schools boost satisfaction, increase participation, improve efficiency, and, yes, save money. 

How can your school get in on the Grab and Go game? For some schools, introducing a new serving process can feel too big and daunting a task; for some, it can seem deceptively easy. Let’s talk about it. 


What is a Grab and Go Serving Station?

You’ve probably encountered “Grab and Go” or self-serve style serving stations in all sorts of retail environments, from shopping mall food courts to roadside service stations. 

In the world of school dining, “Grab and Go” refers to any self-serve area where students can quickly help themselves to pre-packaged, nutritious meals and snacks without having to wait in long lines or take the time to sit down for a traditional meal. As versatile as they are convenient, Grab and Go stations can offer a wide variety of options, from sandwiches and chips to salads, fruits, and vegetables – even bottled drinks and hot beverages.

Student Appeal

Introducing a Grab and Go station in your school’s dining program will draw big cheers from your students and families. More options to customize meal service to their particular needs is always a good move. 

Convenience: Students are often short on time, especially during lunch breaks. A Grab and Go station allows them to quickly choose a meal or snack and return to their studies, spend more time socializing, or fuel up quickly before team practice. 

Variety: Offering a variety of meal and snack options can give students with dietary restrictions easy access to nutritious options that meet their specific needs and preferences. A Grab and Go station can instantly expand your program’s nutritional and specialty offerings, from gluten-free to vegetarian and vegan choices.

Nutrition: Looking for new ways to promote healthy eating? Pre-packaged meals and snacks at a Grab and Go station can be strategically stocked to include the nutrients students need throughout the day. This can include options like fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains.


School Wins

Implementing a Grab and Go station in your school’s dining program can be a win for your dining program overall.

Reduced Waste: Implementing a Grab and Go station can be an effective way to curb food waste. When kids choose and consume only the items they need—rather than being served a full meal with items they might not eat—that means fewer servings bound for the garbage bin and fewer dollars wasted.

Increased Participation: Giving students and families more ways to engage with your food service program generally boosts overall participation and satisfaction. A Grab and Go station is a great way to generate more transactions with students and staff, offering quicker, more convenient options in addition to traditional sit-down meals.

Customization: A Grab and Go station presents a great opportunity to do dining your way, with options tailored to your school’s regional culinary culture, food preferences, and dietary needs. 

Cost Savings: Cost savings are almost always a given with Grab and Go station in the mix. The one-two punch of reduced waste and boosted participation can create big long-term efficiencies for your program, with measurable cost savings as a result. 


Is Grab and Go the next big thing for your school’s dining program?

Implementing a grab and go serving station in your school’s dining program can be a smart move for your school. As you start planning for self-serve options, consider the following

What do students want and need from a self-serve station?

Assess the needs of your student population: number of students, food preferences, dietary restrictions, and more. A strategic survey can be a great way to gauge interest and need. 

Where will the Grab and Go station operate?

Location is critical to the success of a Grab and Go station. Make sure you choose a spot that’s accessible, visible, and in a high-traffic area. You’ll also need to ensure that the space can accommodate the station and any necessary equipment, such as refrigerators or warming trays. 

What will the menu look like?

Think about your students’ preferences and needs, as well as their schedules and daily routines. What meals and snacks would be most popular or appropriate? 

What equipment will you need? 

Sourcing right-sized refrigerators, coolers, warming trays, and various dispensers will be key to your station’s success.

How will you staff your station?

While Grab and Go stations often operate without staff present, you’ll need trained team members to manage the station, keep it stocked and clean, plan menus, and prepare and store food in advance. 

How will you adjust and improve? 

Ongoing surveys are a great way to incorporate student and staff feedback to make sure your Grab and Go station is meeting the needs of your population. 


Implementation is everything. 

How do you set your Grab and Go station up for success from day one? Whether you manage your school’s dining program or work with a managed food service partner, implementing your Grab and Go station will require a fair amount of preparation, investment, and planning before you’re up and running – and a good deal of experienced guidance to set you up for success. 

If you plan to implement a program in-house, make sure you have an experienced, dedicated team member appointed to oversee all of the details. If you’re working with a managed food service partner, talk to them about your ideas. Your team should be capable—and enthusiastic—about handling the details for you, offering helpful insights along the way, and anticipating your unique needs for the project.


Is Grab and Go grabbing your attention? We’d love to give you a clear picture of what partnership—and your self-serve options— would look like. Get in touch with Pedestal Foods here.