Now, more than ever, students are looking for alternative options to their school cafeteria. Special diets are causing students to bring in lunches, open campuses are leading students to eat off campus, and ordering apps are now letting students get their favorite foods delivered.

If schools want to stay relevant and competitive with these alternatives, they’ll need to embrace new marketing techniques and offer students more than the standard lunch meal.

UberEATS on Campus

Just a few years ago, the thought of students ordering takeout during school would have only played out in a scene from Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Nowadays, students can order burgers, burritos, and yes, pizza – all from their smartphones via apps like UberEATS and DoorDash.

UberEATS is a food delivery app created by the same company responsible for the popular ridesharing app. Instead of browsing for rides, users can check out local restaurants around them, order their food, and have it delivered to any address they choose.

It wasn’t long before students started using UberEATS, and similar apps, to have their favorite foods delivered right to their school campus. The problem this poses to schools is twofold.

First, dozens of deliveries to school sites, and even classrooms, can cause disruptions. Often delivery drivers need to pull students out of classrooms to sign for their meals. Secondly, food delivery apps can pose a financial risk for school nutrition departments. The more students get their meals delivered, the less they’ll eat in the cafeteria. Schools need to stay on top of ever-changing trends if they want to avoid more students eating off campus.

How Schools Can Fight Back

If you can’t beat them, join them. It’s no secret students are constantly using apps, and if students are using their phones to order meals, schools need to consider providing apps connected with their cafeterias. Allowing for students to easily see upcoming meals, check food allergies, and know nutritional information can help convince students to eat on campus. Apps like SchoolCafé allow districts to share their meals straight to the one place they know their students will see – their phones.

For more on SchoolCafé, check out our page here.

Often you’ll only have a few seconds to grab students’ attention. Digital menu boards, often seen in popular restaurants like Panera Bread, allows cafeterias to show off their food and catch the eye of hungry students.

As I mentioned in my blog post on school trends, cafeterias can see success by mimicking their competition. What do I mean by that? Instead of the standard greys or beige often found in cafeterias, schools should incorporate team colors or mascot imagery. Offer a variety of seating options – like tables and booths – rather than the typical large tables found in most cafeterias.

Because more and more students are adopting special diets – Vegan, gluten free, etc. – it’s important for cafeterias to cater to more than just the typical teenager. If students can’t eat in the cafeteria because of unique allergies or dietary restrictions, cafeterias are almost forcing those students to not participate and look elsewhere for lunch.

Share Your Thoughts

Are you seeing online ordering as a growing trend at your schools? What ways have you tried to entice students to eat in the cafeteria versus going off campus or bringing their lunch? Let us know below!