Pivots, adjustments, and fresh ideas for managed food service
Just as it did for restaurants, the COVID-19 pandemic changed everything for school dining. Social distancing, contact limitations, face coverings and more created brand-new challenges for our K-12 and university clients, as well as for us as a managed food service provider. We all had to pivot and find creative workarounds for all kinds of challenges, from extended closures to hybrid learning and general safety precautions.
It’s been an interesting couple of years, but as we start to get back to “normal,” the shifts we made during the pandemic will impact how we’ll do business going forward. Some of the challenges we faced pushed us to get more creative, partner closer with our clients, and discover successful solutions we might not have discovered otherwise.
One thing’s for sure: change is here to stay.
Here are just three of the hundreds of small “new normal” shifts we’ll be keeping in our playbook:
Mobile Tech Ordering = Welcome Convenience for Students
As 2020 kicked off, our Lindenwood University College campus dining program was in the process of partnering with Grubhub to introduce online ordering. Who knew this convenience would become a necessity in the months and years to come?
Lindenwood leaned into all of the opportunities that online ordering created, including connecting the service to students’ meal plan cards. Students were able to safely view menu options from their mobile devices and order food and drinks from Starbucks, Chick- fil- A, QDOBA, and our own branded menus using their student meal plan cards, right from their mobile devices. We set up contactless “grab and go” stations for students to collect their orders while the dining hall was closed for in-person dining.
This shift kept dining options consistent for our students as they faced new challenges, kept our staff employed at a time when food service work became uncertain, and opened the door to a whole new process for efficiency and convenience.
The Lindenwood dining hall is back open and students are getting closer to “back to normal,” and Lindenwood will continue to offer convenient online ordering through Grubhub.
Online Ordering = A New Tool for Family Communication
As movement in dining halls became restricted for K-12 students, self-serve stations and hot bar arrangements had to temporarily shift to minimize contact. It was a tough change, as we know students love making their own choices. Plus, being able to offer a wide variety of options was a big selling point for the schools’ dining programs.
In order to preserve variety and freedom to choose, many of our K-12 schools began offering online ordering, allowing students and parents to order lunch options in advance.
In addition to keeping families engaged with campus dining programs, our schools saw something exciting happen: students were actually getting more from their menu plans. Positioned as an advance decision, students—and their parents— got a “bird’s eye view” of all of the menu options available.
Instead of following their friends to specific stations or frequenting what felt familiar, kids were branching out and trying new things at the encouragement of their parents.
Now that we’re back to in-person ordering and choices, parents have a new understanding of the options available to their kids during the day. They are more familiar with our branded menus, and they appreciate the restored convenience of kids choosing their own options.
Salad Bar Switch Ups = Healthier Habits
As dining programs began to re-open, we had to re-think self-serve salad bars around safety guidelines at our K-12 schools. In response, we created “action stations” at most salad bars, where staff would pile lettuce, veggies, toppings, and dressing on salad plates for kids, instead of the students doing it themselves.
In this new “hybrid” self-serving style, students simply told the staff what they wanted on the salad, and the staff built it, assembly-line style. When it came time to relax some of the restrictions and guidelines, many of our schools opted to keep their “action station” salad bars in place. They found that students—especially younger kids—were getting healthier salad portions and trying new options thanks to adult assistance (i.e., no piles of cheese and croutons).
Parents appreciated the switch, too; action stations feel safer as we find our “new normal,” and that peace of mind means a lot.
New Normal and Beyond
We’re so grateful for our amazing schools and feel honored to customize and get creative with them during wildly uncertain times. We’re grateful to have one-on-one, one-of-a-kind relationships with our clients that make customizations and quick pivots possible.
As we all find this “new normal” together, we are so thankful for the lessons we learned along the way and the new insights that we’ll keep going forward.
Interested in freshening up your school’s dining program? Get in touch with Pedestal Foods here.