By Patricia L. Fitzgerald 2017-02-28 04:09:15
When the kids won’t come to the cafeteria, can you bring the cafeteria to them? A LITTLE OVER A YEAR AGO, I was asked to use a list of 250 school nutrition directors who were registered for an upcoming SNA national conference to put together a panel of operators willing to share experiences about creating points of sale for meal service outside of the cafeteria. Not only was I convinced that this would be a cinch (it wasn’t), I didn’t understand the need for an education session on the topic in the first place. Isn’t everyone already doing this to some extent? Long story short, the answer is simple: No. Even among directors whom I consider to be cutting-edge innovators, I was surprised by how relatively few of them are providing meals beyond the cafeteria. The benefits seem so compelling that the challenges are worth tackling and overcoming. (At least to someone who makes a living covering school nutrition programs, not actually operating any.) So, is there a need to explore this subject in education sessions—and in the pages of this magazine? You bet. The hitch (and there’s always a hitch, right?) is that the opportunities for offering points of service outside of the cafeteria are so abundant—and so wildly different—that it’s an eye-crossing task to determine which topics get the deep dive. I’m keenly aware of my woulda, coulda, shoulda wishlist of what didn’t make the final cut, and I’m pledging to cover some of these in future “It’s Your Business,” “Ideas at Work” and “In the Kitchen” columns. But let me explain the whys and wherefores of what you will find in the next 28 pages. Alternative Breakfast Service. This seems to be something of a gateway opportunity for providing meals outside of the cafeteria, the equivalent of easing into the pool from the shallow end, rather than taking a cannonball (or, perhaps more appropriately, a belly flop) from the diving board. Plus, although School Nutrition has been covering the best practices of breakfast in the classroom (on the bus, at the school entrance, after the bell, etc.) for going on two decades, I keep learning of veteran directors who are only recently exploring these service options. Reimbursable Vending. At the other end of the spectrum, we have a look at “bleeding-edge” technology in the form of vending machines that can be linked to your POS system and provide reimbursable meals, expanding your access with no service labor required. Nutrition Hubs. Some may find it a bit ironic that the most prevalent examples of going mobile with reimbursable meals involve the less-prevalent child nutrition programs, such as summer, snacks and supper. The very nature of these programs lend themselves more naturally to offsite service. But before we get into that level of operational detail, many school nutrition departments need more convincing to sign on in the first place. You and your team take great pains to bring students to your cafeterias, ensuring they are welcoming environments that engage all the senses. But that’s the bare minimum of what it takes to gain the patronage of today’s tweens and teens, who tend to have greater schedule and financial autonomy—and choices. To ensure these kids stay your customers, and not become someone else’s, you have to deliver more. You have to deliver what they want, when they want it and where they want it. Are you ready to take your show on the road? Whether that means literally on the road (using a food truck) or only metaphorically (starting with a kiosk is fine), this generation has high expectations of their school meal service. How will you respond? She’s waiting for your answer. Patricia Fitzgerald is editor of School Nutrition.
Published by School Nutrition Association. View All Articles.
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