When you and I were kids the school lunch system was completely different than it is today. At that time I could not have imagined a world where parents could easily deposit money into their child’s account, or where the lunch lines moved quickly. Well, I am happy to tell you that we are now in 2015 with this technology right at your fingertips! Online payment systems (here is an example of this type of system) are becoming popular in school nutrition programs because of the benefits they bring to both the parents and the school districts. Not only can parents ensure their child has funds for lunch but they can do it with little hassle. Districts also enjoy the ever-changing technological world because of administrative benefits they reap.
You may be a parent yourself or you may just have had enough exposure to children to realize that a parent’s job is NOT easy. It fact, on a normal day a parent shuffles their child from activity to activity, helps with homework, puts dinner on the table, and attempts to balance their own life. Thus, anything that can make their lives easier is welcomed with open arms. Parents of the 21st century are all about convenience. They want to be able to access their child’s school nutrition account 24/7 from any device (because we know we all have many). And that’s where the online payment system comes into play!
Ease of Use
Most online payment systems have a pain free set up process, meaning little time is lost from out of an already busy day. Once signed up, parents have a multitude of information right in the palm of their hands. An online payment system allows parents to see the account history of their student or students. Yes, you read that right, parents can access information on all their children enrolled in the district. Whether the children attend the same school or not, their information is all accessible at one site.
When logging in they can see their student’s account balance as well as what the child ate for lunch yesterday or even a month ago. In some systems they can even investigate the nutritional information of the meals. This allows parents to stay informed on their child’s nutritional balance. In some systems if a parent does not want their child to buy something on a certain day they can set restrictions on their account. An example of this would be a child not allowed to have a la carte items on Fridays. This will inform the staff at the POS that the student is not allow to make that purchase.
Low Balance Alerts
While there are many benefits to this system, in my opinion, the best part is what it was designed for-payment! Parents can see the account balance for each of their children, and if an account has gotten too low they can add money. This is a life saver for on the go parents who do not have time to take out cash or write a check to the school. Another crucial function for the busy parent is the low balance alert. This alert reminds the mom or dad when their child’s account has dipped below a pre-set balance, 5 dollars for example. When a parent receives this notification they have the option of logging in on any device and replenishing the balance.
Forgetful parents will also consider the automatic payment system their knight in shining armor. This system allows parents to set a certain balance level for the account. If the balance dips below a certain amount the account will replenish with a pre-set dollar amount. This essentially takes the thinking process out of paying for school lunches. Parents now have the peace of mind that their children will always have money for their school lunch.
While it may seem like the parents get all the benefits of an online payment system, you and I both know this is not the case. School districts and school nutrition professionals benefit greatly from this technology.
In many ways, this system speeds up the school lunch line process. When a parent deposits money into the online payment system the money posts almost immediately. Thus, the POS systems have the most up to date information during each lunch hour. This minimizes disagreements with students and parents about the balance come lunch time.
When lines are more efficient students are more likely to participate in the school lunch program. If a student can be sure that they will not spend their entire lunch period waiting in line, they will go through and buy meals or a la carte items. This participation makes more money for your program and helps it soar to new heights.
Reducing Lost Money
Because of this online payment system students rarely deposit money into their accounts by bringing cash and checks through the line. Instead the account can be full and ready for them when they come through with their meal. The reduced amount of cash and checks also prevents theft in the cafeteria lines. This is something that is important to school nutrition professionals.
This new edition to the program also creates better relationships with parents. The payment system allows your district to create and send custom messages and e-mails. This keeps parents in the loop and informed of their student’s balance. These messages along with the easy access to menus cut back on the amount of phone calls received by the district—meaning parents are happier and you are wasting less time answering questions about the menu. In some systems your school district can allow students to pay for yearbooks, athletic fees, or other activities by simply logging on to their school nutrition online payment system. This cuts the hassle of payments down to almost nothing.
It is clear that considering the online payment feature in the research process is essential. The adoption of this technology would be a smart and beneficial decision for any school district. To me, the benefits appear endless while the cons seem out of sight. Does your district use an online payment system? If so, how has it helped your program?