Posted on Leave a comment

One Key Factor to Successful College Dining Programs

To understand what makes a college and university dining program successful, we should probably take a quick visit to a college campus.

Specifically, let's go to Princeton University, where two psychologists conducted an experiment with the students in the seminary school. Essentially, they were trying to determine what motivates people, what are the driving forces behind our actions, and why we choose one option over another.

Read More

Posted on

4 Factors Impacting College Foodservice

More than just about any other industry, foodservice tends to change in shorter periods of time.

Changes in college and university foodservice operations are no different. Like restaurants, hospitality, and other types of foodservice operations, college campuses are prone to trends, shifts in demographics, and all the other factors that impact our industry.

So what are the influences that are changing the landscape of college and university foodservice? What do directors need to consider to stay ahead of these changes? And, ultimately, what can programs do to keep students on campus for dinner?

Let's take a quick look at a few ideas:

CHANGING DEMOGRAPHICS MEAN CHANGING MENUS.

As we've already detailed in a different blog, demographics are changing on college campuses. With a more divergent student body population stemming from a more diverse nation, in addition to the numbers of international students many colleges and universities host, menus need to reflect the demographics of those they serve. To generate more relevant and appealing menus, use a survey to help understand where your students are coming from and what they prefer to eat.

Beyond ethnic preferences, directors also need to consider health challenges. Religious dietary restrictions as well as the rise of food allergies, intolerances and food-related illnesses like Celiac disease makes it imperative that foodservice operators provide ingredient-sensitive options for those students who can't eat certain foods. Gluten free, nut free, dairy free, and dietary restrictions aren't just a matter of preference. They can actually be a matter of safety and well-being.

LABOR IS A HUGE CHALLENGE.

It's becoming harder to find, train, and retain great foodservice employees. This also holds true for college cafeterias and dining halls. Sure, there's always a pool of college students looking to pay tuition or just wanting some extra spending money, but often they can make more by working in the restaurant across the street.

To make jobs more appealing, C&U operators have become very creative in offering benefits for working on campus. Many schools offer free meals, discounted meal plans, scholarship opportunities as well as career incentives and student management programs.

Increasingly, technology is also playing a huge role in spearheading these challenges. From online ordering and delivery, to digital touchscreen menus on-site, technology and automated kitchens are helping operators deal with these various new labor challenges.

STUDENTS DEMAND TRANSPARENCY AND SUSTAINABILITY.

Today's student populations are more connected to their food supplies than ever before. They care about where food comes from, how it's grown or raised, and how it impacts the environment as a whole. Health is a keyword when it comes to today's students, but it can be taken in different contexts. Health means eating healthier foods such as a more vegetarian-focused diet, as well as environmental health in reducing the impacts dining can have.

"They [students] care about where food comes from, how it's grown or raised, and how it impacts the environment as a whole. Health is a keyword when it comes to today's students, but it can be taken in different contexts.

 

AFFORDABILITY WILL ALWAYS MATTER.

There's an oversimplified way to look at college and university foodservice, but it's true nonetheless. The more a university invests in its foodservice delivery, the better its service will be. At the same time, it's extremely challenging to keep foods affordable.

General convictions say a college should keep foods as low-cost as possible in order to accommodate student populations, but because of some of the menu preferences and requirements listed above, operations are not always as low-cost as they used to be.

One way to combat this is to provide levels of service that not only speak to a diverse student body, but also to the locations and the times that students are able to eat. To meet these student dining demands, it's important to utilize other profit centers like on-campus convenience stores or grab-n-go kiosks. Adjusting services and hours of operation during different day-parts is another way to control costs and still provide the services expected.

There are many factors that are already impacting college and university foodservice.  Be sure to download your copy of our College and University Trends Report that lists all of the top trends you can expect in the 2019-2020 school year.

Lakeside and Multiteria have researched six other trends that will be important to colleges and universities in the 2019-2020 school year.  Download your free copy today to stay on top of the latest ideas and innovations that will help you maintain a first-class foodservice operation!

Posted on

How Demographics Are Impacting College and University Foodservice

Gone are the days of a college dining programs expecting to attract students just because it's located on campus.

Today's college students have smarter, savvier culinary preferences, and it's causing university foodservice operators to change their game to keep them on campus instead of crossing the street for something better. C&U operators understand that many students have the disposable income to dine off-campus.  Therefore, they must be competitive with both the variety and quality of their food offerings to keep them on campus.

However, what does "better" mean, and how do demographics drive it?

For starters, it's all focused on Generation Z, the largest demographic segment in the history of humankind. Based on Bloomberg analysis of United Nations data, Gen Z will comprise roughly one-third of the entire global population this year, edging out Millennials as the largest demographic for the first time.

Depending on which source your reference, a quick scan of the internet shows the following Gen Z character traits:

  • Less use of television
  • Hyper aware - they know what's going on all of the time
  • More focused on products versus experiences
  • Entrepreneurial and competitive
  • Motivated by security
  • Digital natives, having grown up with connectivity
  • Diverse and multicultural

So based on just a cursory review of Gen Z, how do their likes and dislikes, and general characteristics translate to college and university foodservice? How are they changing menus and service delivery? What hot flavor profiles do they crave?

Let's take a look.


If you're interested in the trends that will impact your foodservice program the most this year, download our e-report today!

 


ETHNIC FOODS

If Gen Z is the most diverse and multicultural generation in our nation's history, it goes without saying our college dining centers should reflect that. Additionally, college and university campuses are often filled with international students and faculty, giving on-campus dining facilities a greater reason to include ethnic and multi-cultural menu options. Flavor trends will certainly change from year to year, but the fact they're becoming more diverse will not.

PLANT-BASED FOODS

Gen Z is eating healthier for themselves and the world at large. They're looking for better ways to engage in sustainable practices, and food choices are a large part of those efforts. From salad bars to meatless burgers, college and university foodservice directors enjoy a growing list of products and ingredients that make it easier to provide meat-free meals. Plant-based or vegan menus also assist in keeping food cost at a reasonable level. Animal proteins are typically more expensive than plants and plant-based menus are better for the planet.

SUSTAINABILITY

Yes, we just mentioned sustainability to some degree by mentioning plant-based meals, and yes, we've already talked about sustainability on college and university campuses in a previous blog, but we cannot overstate how important sustainable practices are to Generation Z. From fresh and local sourcing, to sustainable seafood and antibiotic-free proteins, this generation cares about clean, sustainable food more than any in history.

A SENSE OF COMMUNITY

Though some say Gen Z is more concerned with a quality product than a quality experience, when it comes to dining, experiences still matter. Eating isn't just about feeling full or accessing nourishment; it's about finding a place to unwind, to socialize, and having a sense of community, an important aspect of college life that can often be so difficult to find for those who are new to campus.

"There's school or work and there's home, but how do you create this kind of third-place getaway?" asks Costel Coca, a design principal at Anaheim-based Webb Foodservice Design in an article in Foodservice Equipment & Supplies magazine. "That's what companies like Starbucks have done so effectively, and that's where much of college and university dining is headed," he says. "When we start thinking about kitchens and foodservice, we're now starting with the experience and the story we want to tell in the facility before getting to its functional aspects. It's about a couple of key factors. One is a desire to create a neighborhood vibe, and that's being done, in part, via micro restaurants. We're designing restaurants more than we are food stations, and there's a heightened focus on the aesthetic value of the facility."

TECHNOLOGY

Generation Z is one of the digital natives, essentially meaning they were raised with smartphones from the very beginning. They've been "connected" their entire lives. With this level of technology usage comes an expectation that technology should make our lives easier, and this mentality extends to foodservice. From mobile ordering to convenient pick-up, the next generations expect technology to play a major role in how they eat. Sustainability is an important college and university foodservice trend. Would you like to learn about more relevant trends? Download our free 2019 Foodservice Trends Guide to see the other trends impacting our industry.

Demographics is just one of many factors that's already impacting college and university foodservice.  Be sure to download your copy of our e-report that lists the top trends you can expect in the 2019-2020 school year.

Lakeside and Multiteria have researched six other trends that will be important to colleges and universities in the 2019-2020 school year.  Download your free copy today to stay on top of the latest ideas and innovations that will help you maintain a first-class foodservice operation!

Posted on

Webinar: 7 Top Trends in C&U Foodservice

In this 30 min. mini-webinar (20 mins. with 10 mins Q&A), Nancy Lane discusses the top seven trends that will impact college and university foodservice programs in the upcoming year. Here are the topics she covers.

7 Top Trends

  1. Sustainability
  2. Plant-Forward
  3. Labor Efficiencies
  4. Transparency
  5. New Normal
  6. Food Insecurity
  7. Infusing Digital

Recording of Webinar


 

PDF of Presentation

PDF of Our "C&U Foodservice Trends & Solutions" e-Report

Lakeside and Multiteria have researched the 7 top trends that will be important to colleges and universities in the 2019-2020 school year.  For additional ideas, download your free copy today to stay on top of the latest ideas and innovations that will help you maintain a first-class foodservice operation!

Posted on

4 Ways to Make Your College Foodservice Program More Sustainable

4 Ways to Make Your College Foodservice Program More Sustainable

Sustainability is not only popular amongst today's college-aged students; it's also an easy way to save money.

Sustainability is often seen as being more complicated than it really is.  Bottom line, the less we waste, the more we save. That goes for our reputations as well as our wallets.

More than ever, younger demographics of students are interested in foodservice that's not just good for their bodies. They're looking for foodservice that's good for the environment as well. A trip across campus at your old alma mater may look the same in some ways, but step into the student union dining hall and it might look totally different.

Today, colleges and universities have a wide range of foodservice delivery components. When properly combined, they can produce a process that helps create a more sustainable foodservice program.  The University of Michigan is a great example.  Their foodservice department is actively incorporating various sustainable practices with the goal to become carbon-neutral in 10 years.

While it's great to set the bar really high like this, it requires extensive planning and a great deal of patience to work a 10-year plan.  However, there's always some low-hanging fruit that's ripe for the taking and easy to grab too.  Here are some practical tips that you can immediately implement to help your college and university foodservice department become more sustainable right away:

FOOD WASTE

Food waste is by far one of the most important foodservice trends of 2019. As Americans, we waste roughly 40 percent of our entire food supply, and this is no different on our college campuses. Students are leading the way on many of these initiatives. Some prime areas to begin exploring college foodservice sustainability include programs that use sophisticated menu management systems to assist in forecasting, purchasing and production. Some software even measures and monitors food waste production in the dish room. Check out these food waste reduction resources from the Environmental Protection Agency for more ideas.

BUYING LOCAL

Many college and university operators buy local for many sustainable reasons, often to decrease the distances required to transport food.  Trucking and shipping not only add a layer of cost to ingredients, but they also add carbon to our atmosphere. More than ever in the history of college and university foodservice, operators are sourcing ingredients closer to campus from local farmers, ranchers and artisans, and in some cases, ingredients are grown or raised on campus.

CLEAN INGREDIENTS

Foods grown sustainably are often organic which means they're almost always antibiotic-free, hormone-free, and pesticide-free. Are there additional costs associated with better, cleaner ingredients? Of course, but students are driving these demands and they're also willing to pay the difference when they know they're helping contribute to sustainable efforts.

“When budgets are tight or there are pressures to raise revenues or save costs, it’s best to start with menu engineering,” says Shawn LaPean, a food consultant at Blendid, a manufacturer of autonomous robotic kiosks that prepare and serve custom blended beverages.  “For instance, instead of serving a 4 ounce burger, consider serving a 3 ounce burger to ensure you maintain a perception of value, whether you manage an ‘all-you-can-eat’ or a cash operation.”  Shawn further states that changing the portions slightly without lowering the value sometimes enables operators to afford to include sustainable and organic products on their menus instead of conventional products.  He also says that “sustainable and organic products from local suppliers is of primary importance to customers.”

UTILITIES & FACILITIES

The fourth main component to sustainability involves the amounts of utilities it takes to complete a service. Operators are looking to continuously improve the efficiency of every aspect of their operations - from water and gas, to electricity and refrigerant, the quantities you use impact the world as well as your wallet.

Foodservice is one of the largest consumers of energy over any other type of operation, and that's why foodservice equipment and supplies are so critical in reducing usage levels of our valuable resources. From on-demand ventilation, to energy-efficient blenders, a serious examination of the equipment used in a college or university kitchen can help reduce utility bills. There are many other ideas like these detailed in an article in Community College Daily.

Sustainability is an important college and university foodservice trend. Would you like to learn about more relevant trends? Download our free 2019 Foodservice Trends Guide to see the other trends impacting our industry.

Lakeside and Multiteria have researched 7 foodservice trends that will be important to colleges and universities in the 2019-2020 school year.  Download your free copy of this quick resource guide today to stay on top of the latest ideas and innovations that will help you maintain a first-class foodservice operation!

Posted on

A Closer Look at the Food Hall Trend

A Closer Look at the Food Hall Trend

What are food halls, and why are they important? For starters, let's talk about what they are.

Food halls are kind of like a hybrid between a market and a food court. Designed with both shopping and dining in mind, they're generally more specialty-oriented than a typical supermarket and they offer more fast-casual options as opposed to full-service restaurants.

You've likely seen a food hall in your travels, even if you didn't know it was a food hall. Popularized by modern food hall pioneers like the Chelsea Market and Eataly in New York City, the trend quickly spread from coast to coast.

Technically, though, it began decades ago in places like Harrods of London, the Granville Island Public Market in Vancouver, and the famous Pike Place Market in Seattle. For Bostonians, they can lay claim to the Quincy Market, which has hosted food merchants since 1742.

Today, though, the combination of food and retail are experiencing a rebirth. Not only are malls re-inventing themselves, but according to a report from Jones Lang LaSalle, 40 percent of all consumers will visit a mall-type location based solely on the restaurants located there. Cue the food hall, and call the real estate developers.

"Food halls are not a fad," says a 2018 report by developers Cushman & Wakefield. "Food halls are the sharing economy for restaurants."

In their report, they predicted nearly 200 food halls in operation by the beginning of this year. In real estate-driven places like Boulder, Colorado, for example, restaurants are even turning into food halls. What happens when an enormous, 13,000-square-foot Cheesecake Factory closes in a prime, downtown location? Developers plan to turn it into a food hall.

The bottom line, though, is rooted in philosophy. Yes, people will always need to eat. Yes, people will always need to shop. But what's brilliant about the food hall concept is that it plays on another human need which is one of interaction and experience.

Food halls, in just a few short years, have become a deeply loved and entrenched part of our collective foodservice landscape. Food, after all, is something that brings us together in our daily search for interaction and experience and operators are more numerous in this recognition.

Food halls are an emerging foodservice trend that colleges and universities can't ignore.

There are some immediate advantages with a food hall concept.  With less overhead and built-in foot traffic associated with food halls, colleges and universities can promote a lower barrier of entry when courting outside foodservice entrepreneurs to partner with.  Moreover, students have grown up with "marketplace food halls" and desire this experience on campus too.

Discover 7 other foodservice trends in our free 2019 College and University Foodservice Trends Report.

Lakeside and Multiteria have researched seven other trends that will be important to colleges and universities in the 2019-2020 school year.  Download your free copy today to stay on top of the latest ideas and innovations that will help you maintain a first-class foodservice operation!

 


Attend a brief 30 min. mini-webinar on the "7 Top Trends in C&U Foodservice!"

Join Nancy Lane on Sept. 19th for this quick, jam-packed webinar - 20 mins. content with 10 mins. Q&A.  The seven trends include:

  1. Sustainability
  2. Plant-Forward
  3. Labor Efficiencies
  4. Transparency
  5. New Normal
  6. Food Insecurity
  7. Infusing Digital

Click below and sign up today!

Posted on

A Quick Look at 2019’s Flavor Trends

A Quick Look at 2019's Flavor Trends

What flavors are people looking for in 2019? And who are the people looking for them? Let's take a closer look.

Thanks to the great research done by our friends at Foodable Labs, we have data compiled from nearly one million social media conversations between chefs, operators, brands, and influencers.

Based on these conversations, Foodable Labs was able to determine the top flavor profiles and cuisines of 2019, and because we love trends so much here at Lakeside, we wanted to break down those flavor trends for you here.

ASIAN FOODS ARE STILL POPULAR.

Over the last few years, we've seen a rise in popularity of Asian foods, especially the foods of Korea and the Philippines. In terms of flavors, options like hoisin sauce, garlic, ginger, and chili sauce are leading the way. And when they looked at menus, Foodable Labs found an increase in these flavors at a rate of 31.3 percent for independent restaurants and 29.5 percent in fast-casual operations.

SPEAKING OF HOT, IT'S HOT.

According to Foodable Labs, the jalapeño has been replaced by the habanero as the most popular pepper, with an increase on menus of more than 20 percent. "Hot" isn't just limited to the Scoville scale. It can also include different types of "heat" such as the type of sinus-clearing burn associated with horseradish, which is also gaining in popularity.

WHAT ABOUT A SWEET TOOTH?

Looking for something sweet? According to the report, we're craving sweets more now than ever. When it comes to true natural flavors, trends lean towards fruits such as mango, passion fruit and avocado (and yes, avocado is a fruit). As far as desserts go, salted caramel led the way, with other popular dishes including chocolate-topped items and anything with hot fudge.

PEOPLE LOVE PLANTS.

Consumers are looking for more plant-based menu options. There was a 23.5 percent increase in plant-based menu consumption in Millennials and a 21.9 percent increase in consumers between the ages of 45 and 55. These are the highest growing menu considerations amongst the main menu sectors.

Foodable Labs' plant-based menu statistics confirm our research as well. As part of our 2019 College and University Foodservice Trends Report, we detailed a consumer shift to plant-based foods out of a desire to reduce traditional meat consumption. Flavor innovations are feeding a rising flexitarian population, and consumers are now more responsible in their eating habits (from both a personal health and environmentally sustainability standpoint) by choosing plant-based proteins.

 

In our 2019 College and University Foodservice Trends Report, Lakeside dug deep and uncovered the 7 most popular trends we expect to see this year, most of which go beyond the flavor trends mentioned above. Check out these 2019 foodservice trends by downloading our free report.

Lakeside and Multiteria have researched seven top trends that will be important to colleges and universities in the 2019-2020 school year.  Download your free copy today to stay on top of the latest ideas and innovations that will help you maintain a first-class foodservice operation!


Attend a brief 30 min. mini-webinar on the "7 Top Trends in C&U Foodservice!"

Join Nancy Lane on Sept. 19th for this quick, jam-packed webinar - 20 mins. content with 10 mins. Q&A.  The seven trends include:

  1. Sustainability
  2. Plant-Forward
  3. Labor Efficiencies
  4. Transparency
  5. New Normal
  6. Food Insecurity
  7. Infusing Digital

Click below and sign up today!

Posted on

The One Reason Food Waste Reduction Is So Popular

As good as it is for everyone involved, food waste reduction isn't as altruistic as everyone makes it out to be.

Yes, sustainability is one of our top 2019 foodservice trends (just 1 of 7 in our downloadable report). Yes, reducing food waste is one method to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and water consumption. And, of course, we want to do everything we can to effectively and efficiently deliver food into the hands of students and customers. But there's another reason college and university foodservice operations across North America are focusing on food waste reduction.

Money.

The reality is, we waste roughly 1.3 billion tons of the world's food supply annually. This accounts for a loss of nearly $990 billion. The United States wastes $160 billion of that total, accounting for as much as 40 percent of our food.

That's right. In the United States, we waste over one-third of our food. Imagine if we threw a $20 bill out the window every time we withdrew $50 from the ATM. That's essentially what is happening with our food supply, and as much as restaurants and foodservice operations want to do the right thing for both humanity and the environment, throwing away money is an even bigger reason to reduce food waste.

According to the non-profit organization, ReFED, which focuses on reducing food waste in the United States, there's a huge payoff when operations invest in sustainable measures. In their 2016 Roadmap to Reduce U.S. Food Waste by 20 Percent, they detail a benefit-to-cost ratio that is staggering:

For every $1 invested in food waste reduction, the savings potential can be as much as $8.

That's an incredible number. While operators know reducing food waste helps fight hunger, protect the environment, and even attracts important customer bases like Millennials and Gen Z who demand sustainable practices, the profit potential is enormous and appealing. Here are a few things to consider for your college and university foodservice operation:

RECONSIDER YOUR SERVICE.

Smaller plate sizes, smaller serving sizes, and even trayless dining are an easy way to reduce food waste. According to ReFED, smaller plates can reduce food waste by as much as 17 percent. On the buffet line, trayless dining reduces food waste as well. Lastly, reconsidering your menu can also have positive impacts when it comes to reducing food waste. To borrow a phrase, foodservice operations should "use the whole hog." For example, serve both the beet and the beet greens, thus eliminating some waste. Allowing guests to customize their meals should also be a consideration. By serving exactly what a customer requests, operators will reduce waste.

PLAN BETTER.

More accurate inventory management and production that are rooted in data can help save an operation thousands of dollars annually. According to ReFED, waste tracking and analytics can have the biggest business impact, helping the restaurant industry increase profits by as much as $266 million per year. Using this data to better plan for ordering and production schedules can help prevent overproduction, which is a big contributor to food waste.

DONATE UNWANTED FOOD.

Yep, giving food to those in need is a good thing for obvious reasons. There can also be a financial benefit too. Donating unwanted food is a recovery-based way to reduce food waste that can also provide your operation some tax incentives.

Reducing food waste is a sustainability initiative which is 1 of 7 key trends we cite in our 2019 College and University Foodservice Trends Report.

Lakeside and Multiteria have researched seven top trends that will be important to colleges and universities in the 2019-2020 school year.  Download your free copy today to stay on top of the latest ideas and innovations that will help you maintain a first-class foodservice operation!


Attend a brief 30 min. mini-webinar on the "7 Top Trends in C&U Foodservice!" 

Join Nancy Lane on Sept. 19th for this quick, jam-packed webinar - 20 mins. content with 10 mins. Q&A.  The seven trends include:

  1. Sustainability
  2. Plant-Forward
  3. Labor Efficiencies
  4. Transparency
  5. New Normal
  6. Food Insecurity
  7. Infusing Digital

Click below and sign up today!

Posted on

5 Things to Consider When Converting Underutilized Space into a Retail Dining Concept

With the foodservice giants having raised the standard of an exceptional café experience, you may be considering incorporating a “café” type concept in an underutilized space such as a lobby or corner area of your facility to generate revenue away from your current foodservice operation.

"You only get one chance to make a first impression."

This adage also resonates to life in the foodservice realm. With countless cafés, restaurants and fast food establishments aplenty, the consumer is inundated with deciding where to eat, drink and spend their money. Enticing the attention and business of today’s consumer can be captured with a little ingenuity that creates a unique one-of-a-kind “experience.”

With the foodservice giants having raised the standard of an exceptional café experience, you may be considering incorporating a “café” type concept in an underutilized space such as a lobby or corner area of your facility to generate revenue away from your current foodservice operation.

  1. Location– Determine the best location for your “café concept”; a lobby may be the perfect location or consider a space that's currently away from your cafeteria where there's existing foot traffic and may be a viable location to set up. Study traffic patterns, get feedback from students and visitors, do your research before moving to the next step.
  2. Decide on Space Requirements – Careful research and consideration should be taken when designing your space. Define your long-term goals and have a clear idea on how you will best utilize the space. Go on a research expedition and visit local eateries to view equipment, traffic flow, and aesthetics. This will greatly help in the design phase.
  3. Equipment – Consider self-contained mobile retail equipment concepts that fit the space and offer flexibility in terms of the ability to easily move the counters to another location if the particular location selected isn’t profitable. Also, think about using equipment that provides flexibility such as a basic open kiosk platform or larger size configuration made up of several counters. It's important to select equipment based on capacity, labor, anticipated maintenance costs of operating the space and initial cost of the equipment.
  4. Menu selection will drive “the customer experience” and researching your options prior to the design phase is key. It's important to remember that the menu creates an “image” of your establishment and needs to be an extension of the design you're trying to portray. Menu planning to meet current trends and food prep required will drive the menu. Will you be serving prepackaged prepared items or will you be implementing a menu made-to-order style concept such as paninis, made-to-order sandwiches, noodle bars, specialty coffee and snacks, etc.?
  5. Merchandising/Signage – Because a dining experience is more than great food, food display and merchandising can drive revenue and participation. Creative merchandising can capture missed sales opportunities, maximize profitability and increase customer satisfaction and repeat business. There are 4 key elements to successful merchandising; by incorporating these into your retail dining operation you can enhance your foodservice operation and ultimately increase sales.

By making a concerted effort in the research phase, you will be able to effectively implement a successful revenue generating stream in an underutilized area that will compliment your retail dining program.

For a 30 minute consultation with a Multiteria representative who can walk you through the design and implementation steps to provide food and beverage service in a remote area, contact us today!

Posted on

Limited Budget?  5 Ideas for the Outdated Cafeteria

When you have a tight or non-existent budget, here are five ways you can renovate an outdated cafeteria.

School districts participating in the National School Lunch Program ( serve healthy meals to a staggering 31 million children daily.  But many schools lack adequate infrastructure and up-to-date foodservice equipment.  With ever changing regulations that alter school foodservice programs, along with growing student populations, managing a program with outdated equipment adds another level of challenges.

Schools have a growing list of daily issues to contend with besides outdated equipment; labor shortages, space restrictions, limited storage for the increase in fresh fruits and vegetables, plus a decrease in allotted time for lunch to name a few.  Often these concerns take center stage.  Combine this with tight or non-existent budgets, what is a foodservice operator to do?

Here are 5 options to consider:

1.) “One-by-One” Replacements – Instead of doing a full renovation, one option is to replace outdated counters or sections of counters one-by-one with flexible counters. This approach enables you to begin the renovation process with one-off replacements which may be more attainable and cost-effective for you to serve a growing student population. It also spreads out the transition over several years with smaller and more frequent equipment purchases.

Unfortunately, this isn’t a practical solution. My school has an outdated serving line that’s “one” continuous piece. What can I do?

2.) Think Vertical – When you have space limitations as well as increased student populations and limited lunch time to serve students in 10-15 minutes, go vertical. If you’re operating a 30+ year old cafeteria, you may not be able to retrofit your serving line. So if budget allows, consider purchasing a heated and/or refrigerated visual merchandising display case for pre-made grab-and-go menu options. This will allow you to serve more fast-access items in one location, reorganize overcrowded counter space and alleviate serving line congestion by having students quickly make meal selections. Artfully displaying menu selections also raises visibility which could potentially serve more students.

This solution doesn’t work for me due to a lack of counter space and a lack of electrical supply required to plug in a display case. Is there another option?

3.) Pop-up Portable Retail Counters – These types of mobile counters can provide an additional revenue-generating stream in underutilized spaces. As “extended or additional lunch lines,” they offer the advantage of being moved anywhere within a cafeteria or even to open areas outside of a cafeteria such as lobbies or hallways. This can also expand your service to provide self-serve grab-and-go prepacked reimbursable meals, a la carte menus or afterschool smart snacks away from your existing serving line. Positive impacts include capturing or increasing participation and serving more students in a limited timeframe. Pop-up portable retail counters can be an affordable option when budgets don’t allow for a full renovation or one-by-one counter replacements.

I don’t have the staff required to operate this concept. I also lack the budget to purchase another piece of equipment. Is there another option to consider?

4) Merchandising – Merchandising can breathe new life into your existing space and give a facelift to an existing serving line. With limited budgets, consider new vinyl wraps for your existing counter fronts. This can provide a low-cost solution to refreshing tired and outdated counters. A quick Google search can provide you a list of several local companies that can assist you with this method. For décor, select a few collections of colorful eye-catching merchandising props to enhance aesthetic appeal and functionality. Also, adding signage to help identify menus and food stations can successfully increase participation. Incorporating the 4 visual keys to merchandising is an inexpensive yet impactful way to add a “wow factor” to your existing space.

I just don’t have any funds, but I really need to find a way to speed up the service. Is there a “no cost” option?

5) Reorganize Your Serving Line – For little to no cost, reorganizing your serving line can improve functionality and temporarily fix traffic patterns. Start by observing your serving line during peak breakfast or lunch rush. Look for bottlenecking issues, from food selection to point of service. Identify where the line slows down. Are there too many menu choices for students to choose from? If you provide five options, perhaps reducing them to three would help students make faster selections. Or, consider reorganizing the flow. If possible, try moving your cashier station away from the serving line(s) to alleviate backups and maintain flow. If you serve small condiment packets, neatly reorganize them in individual baskets or decorative tins for quick and easy access. Streamlining the process with some small tweaks can shave off a few seconds here and there which all adds up to getting students through the line faster.

We’ve worked with many districts with limited budgets to come up with solutions that were right for them. We can help you too with a site visit to view your operation in action and discuss possible ideas that you can immediately incorporate into your dining space.  Tell us what you need help with. Contact us today!