Harris School Solutions
Harris School Solutions

How to Increase School Lunch Participation in Non-Traditional Locations

School Nutrition programs are busy planning for the new and uncertain logistics of serving students in non-traditional locations this fall. It’s critical to make arrangements for serving food in ways that address health and safety concerns. Once those arrangements are in place, though, it’s important not to lose sight of the other key component of School Nutrition success: promotion and participation.

You’ll need to promote your program in new ways in order to maintain or even increase participation levels. Here’s how you can do that.

Physical Promotion: Standing Out

So much of life has gone digital lately, that providing information in an analog way can really stand out. This means posting signage throughout your school. Don’t overlook the effect that tangible signs can have on participation for your School Nutrition program during the 2020-2021 school year.

Health and safety is still the number one concern, though, so be sure to consider what type of signs you’ll be using, and how to post your menus safely.

With a paper menu, for example, students will stand in front of it, lean in, and possibly breath on it while reading the menu. This poses a risk to whoever then needs to swap that paper menu out at the end of the day, week or month. One way around this is by investing in digital signage that can be updated safely from a distance.

Digital Promotion: Passive and Active

In addition to on-premise signs, now is a good time to consider transmitting menus and other promotional information in a 21st-century way. Students have already been savvy with technology for a long time, but now their parents have been forced to catch up since so much of their lives has moved onto the internet.

Consider updating your website and leveraging it to post information and news about your School Nutrition program.

You also should find ways to actively push the information to students and parents. While a website is a mostly passive channel, meaning your students and parents need to come to you to find the information they need, there are other, more active ways your team can transmit promotions. The more active you become in promoting, the higher your participation levels will grow.

For example, you could send regular emails with menus, promotions, and news about important COVID-19-related updates. This way, students and parents don’t need to make an effort to seek out your promotions; instead, it comes to them. One thing to keep in mind, though, is that emails can quickly become disorganized.

On the other hand, there are digital menu apps available that make sending that information out even simpler, and more effective, too, thanks to push notifications.

Pre-Ordering: Increase Opportunities

Another element of promotion that’s especially critical during the pandemic is enabling pre-ordering. If you allow students and parents to order earlier and for a longer period of time, your participation numbers will go up because you’ve given them a bigger window of opportunity in which to participate.

Emails and other basic channels may not provide a solution to pre-ordering, though. For that, you really need a system designed and built specifically for the purpose of meeting School Nutrition needs. The good news is: they exist!

Look for an app that allows pre-ordering and that can hook into your primary School Nutrition software. This way, the pre-ordering process will be seamless, both for your team and for parents and students. If the app works with your digital and physical promotion channels, that’s even better. The more connections you create between all your systems, the easier your promotional efforts will be for your team and, in turn, the more effective those efforts will be in boosting participation.

Serving Staggered: No Skipped Meals

The ability to pre-order also enables you to serve smarter. Pre-ordering reduces School Nutrition waste since you have a better idea of what to expect when serving.

Beyond reducing food waste, though, pre-ordering can also help boost participation by increasing food purchases even with staggered lunches. You can’t control when students will be present in your school this year, but you can make sure they get a week’s worth of meals when they do come in or even if they stay virtual and take advantage of distance learning.

If a student is only in school on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, for example, you don’t want to miss out on serving her a Tuesday meal and a Thursday meal in order to maximize participation. So, when you offer pre-ordering, don’t forget to plan for overcoming staggered lunches. Prepare and offer multiple-meal purchases so students can take their extra meals home on days when they are in school, or offer curbside pickup for parents.

Want a tool that does all of this in one easy app?

Click below to learn about EZSchoolLunch!

EZSchoolLunch Overview