Ever wonder what a picture can do for your cafeteria?

Visuals are everywhere in the fast paced world we live in today, and they can make or break your marketing efforts in the cafeteria. Districts across the nation are using menu publishing tools to market their cafeteria offerings and increase participation. Photographs are a huge tool in your menu publishing toolbox. If they are sub-par, your meal program may suffer as a result. If you don’t believe me, take a look at these two pictures of oatmeal. Which bowl would you rather eat?

If you answered with “the second one,” you’re in the majority. If I told you that your only options for breakfast were to eat the first bowl of oatmeal or bring your own breakfast, you’d probably just bring your own breakfast, right? The same is true of your students. If you use pictures of food that looks less than appetizing, students won’t want to eat in your cafeteria. It’s simple. Great pictures will encourage students to eat with you. Unappealing pictures will discourage students from eating with you. Therefore, great pictures = more participation.

If you have no idea how to get your pictures looking like the bowl of oatmeal with the berries, don’t worry. Those two pictures above are actually the same bowl of oatmeal, taken with the same iPhone. You don’t need expensive equipment to produce beautiful photographs of your food. You just need to know how to make your smartphone work for you. Three key things to keep in mind with your photos: use the correct lighting, stage your food, and practice a clean edit.


The key to lighting is to keep it simple and natural. You don’t need expensive, complicated lighting equipment to take beautiful pictures. The light that comes through a window on a sunny day is perfect for food photography. Use white foam board or poster board to reflect
light back onto the food and eliminate harsh shadows. Position these homemade reflectors opposite the light source so that the light bounces back onto the subject. You can even use a foam board as a backdrop to your food for a simple, clean look.

Staging Your Food

Staging your food showcases all the flavors and smaller elements of the food. This also makes your photos look more interesting. Adding elements like sauce, berries, and other garnishes help to visually communicate the flavors in your food. Use things like place-mats, silverware, and napkins to give your subject some context. Here are some examples of staging your food:

Oatmeal: sprinkle berries on top & around bowl
Tomato basil soup: add a sprig of basil, saltine crackers
Chicken fingers: show a side of ketchup or barbecue sauce


When it comes to editing, less is more – especially for food photography. The goal is not to over-saturate your colors so much that they look unreal, but rather to make them pop by correcting discoloration, and enhancing the light and dark areas of your photograph. Your phone offers several free ways to edit photos. Use the built in editing tools in your smartphone to make minor adjustments, or download apps that offer other features not on your phone. VSCO Cam is my personal favorite. It has a great collection of free filters you to use and adjust, and you can also make custom enhancements as well. Adobe Lightroom even has an app for your phone that includes dozens of presets and effects to choose from.

Whether you’re using your photographs for menu publishing in an application like SchoolCafé, or using them for your website and social media, you’ll want them looking their best. Always keep in mind your lighting, staging, and editing when preparing your pictures to make your menus and other marketing beautiful and engaging.