The Power Of Student Engagement In The Cafeteria

A cafeteria is an area schools serve students. Kids come in, they pay for their lunch that has been predetermined, and then they leave. At least, that’s how some see the school cafeteria. What’s missed, however, in this interpretation is the key ingredient for any cafeteria – the students.

Students are the customers for school nutrition departments. Simply telling customers what they want, without any of their input, is a strategy destined to crash and burn. How often do you receive an email or asked to fill out a survey rating your experiences at fill-in-the-blank-here business? There’s a reason for this. Businesses want to make money and businesses with happy customers make more money than those who don’t. This same mindset needs to be applied to schools as well.

Benefiting From Student Interaction

Having students interact with their cafeteria experience has two main benefits: first, food directors and staff get valuable feedback from their customers (students), and second, students engaged in their nutrition and food experience are more likely to participate.

Concerning the first benefit, the more food directors can hear what their students are saying – what they like, the popular menu items, etc. – the more tuned in they will be to what students want. If students are talking about how they’d love to see healthier options with more customization, then offering a salad bar might be a smart option to retain more health-minded students.

As for the second benefit, students that feel like their voices are being heard and are part of the cafeteria experience, rather than passive recipients, are much more likely to stay on campus instead of leaving for lunch or bringing food from home.

Getting Students Engaged

People like to feel like their voices are being heard, and students are no different. Conducting polls can be a great way to get students involved and let them have a say in what they eat. Take Thanksgiving for example; try having a poll to see if students want dressing or sweet potatoes around the Thanksgiving holiday. Regardless of what students choose, they’ll feel like they had an effect and be happier because of it.

Surveys are another way to not only get students involved, but an important tool to get valuable insight on which food items students like, or don’t like. Using a rating system, like Amazon’s 5 stars, can be a fun way for schools, and students, to see the most popular food items on the menu.

Taste tests are beneficial as they are not only a fun way for students to get active in the cafeteria but it also provides an avenue to expose younger kids to healthier food options. Learning about food and watching peers and teachers try new foods can help motivate students to taste foods that they may not have experienced at home or in the cafeteria. Taste testing foods prior to adding the food to the daily menu will encourage students to try new foods, create satisfied customers and help save money by reducing food waste.

Reach Students Online

Go digital. Interacting with students through social media and online platforms can also encourage engagement and higher retention. Platforms like Facebook can help for reaching students by sharing fun event photos and other content.

Mobile apps can be another important tool for engaging students constantly plugged into their phones. PrimeroEdge’s SchoolCafé gives schools a platform to not only publish menus, but gives students the option to favorite menu items, vote in polls, or even share photos of their food – all from their phone. For schools looking to market to tech savvy students, apps like SchoolCafé allows cafeterias to go mobile.

Cafeterias aren’t places to feed students and send them on their way, their communal spaces that offer schools a unique opportunity to involve students in a conversation about nutrition. The more reviews, sharing, and excitement schools can get out of students, the better they will be at serving kids what they want to eat for lunch. Remember, a happy customer is a returning customer, and unless you have 100% customer satisfaction, you can improve.

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