As institutions of learning, K-12 dining halls should be a natural place to enlighten student customers and their parents about healthy food options. Instilling healthy meal habits, starting your day with a wholesome school breakfast is what every K-12 school food service program should aim for.
You are probably well aware, that many school nutrition leaders face a plethora of common challenges as it relates to preparing wholesome meals for K-12 students. However, many of the challenges abounding on the K-12 dining landscape can be duly addressed, through proper marketing and promotional activities that not only boost cafeteria sales but engage your student customers to a level that keeps them coming back for more. Remember, marketing efforts that originate in the dining hall can go on to impact classrooms at large and even extend their influence to families, knitting the entire school community together.
With the ultimate goal of increasing participation and engagement in the school cafeteria, an effective marketing tool will be most lucrative in the long run. Some creative problem solving coupled with a positive can-do attitude, and influential partnerships we see how marketing efforts can “bring more student customers to the table”.
Build A Supportive Network
Building strong relationships is essential in setting the building blocks of a successful business. Valuable buy-in and feedback from your target audience (i.e. most importantly, STUDENTS coupled with the individuals and organizations who are directly involved with your K-12 operation) can set you up for long-term success. Once you’ve gotten your stakeholders engaged, seamless information sharing gets them to support you every step of the way, after all it’s all about creating a win-win situation. Here are some ideas we’ve compiled for you that will help take your business to the next level:
1) Reach Out To Parents And Family
- Disseminating value-adding information via the right school communication channels such as websites, menus and newsletters.
- Holding parent organization meetings to discuss what will work best for their child. This includes parent controls, special dietary requirements and the like.
- Ask for parents to volunteer in helping with the marketing efforts and fun-filled promotional activities.
- Give a live tour of the K-12 dining hall and introduce parents to any DIY school breakfast and lunch options available for their child.
- Promoting, sharing and distributing creative menu items that parents can even experiment with at home to keep students engaged.
2) Connect The Classroom To The Lunchroom
Teachers can stir positive thoughts amongst their students and connect the curriculum to the lunchroom. This could entail giving live cooking demonstrations and having interactive sessions on healthy eating options (using more green vegetables and juicy fruit recipes).
Connecting nutrition to productivity in the classroom highlights the benefits of a wholesome school meal. Many K-12 schools around the country emphasize the importance of a highly nutritional breakfast to kick start the day and hence should be marketed more in a positive light to increase participation.
3) Get The Food Service Staff Involved
From the Food Service Director right to the front-line staff, make sure everyone is emotionally involved towards one mission and a shared goal of giving top-notch service to student customers. An intrinsically motivated team can help create a positive aura around your K-12 cafeteria and inevitably boost sales. K-12 school food service programs should consider investing in the training and development of their staff so that they all gravitate towards a shared vision.
4) Shared Communities
Culinary students and chefs can be sent out special invitations to come breathe life into K-12 dining halls and turn them from institutional to inviting. Preparing sample recipes on live stations, alongside demonstrating safe hygiene and food standards is an ideal way to get things going.
To enhance your K-12 cafeteria aesthetics you can partner with local artists or school district based art teachers/classes to paint a nutrition and wellness themed mural in the cafeteria for students.
School nutrition marketing programs also receive great traction as they can assist K-12 nutrition service programs with the right marketing efforts.
5) Student Involvement Is Key
Student buy-in cannot be stressed enough as when the student customers themselves get involved in the planning and implementation stage. When student involvement is made a priority, they are more likely to become advocates. Student groups and organizations representing your school cafeteria can help with powerful, word-of-mouth marketing, influencing more and more students to indulge in the dining experience at the school cafeteria.
Alumni students (of feeder patterns) can also have a positive impact on current/younger students when they share their positive experiences. Peer mentoring concepts go a long way in influencing student customers to inculcate healthy eating habits at school as well as at home.
6) Flyers, Banners And Websites
Just like your high school cafeteria aesthetics plays a pivotal role in attracting student customers, similarly marketing collaterals and eye-catching flyers and banners increase brand awareness. Be it school hallways, newsletters or orientation sessions, having promotional material ready to market your products/services is essential in generating sales in the long run. After all, you need to forge every relationship on the basis of trust. This includes relationships with students.
With social media becoming an integral part of our lives, reinforcing on-ground marketing activities for the online world is equally important. Your school’s website is like a window to your services and branding it in a manner such that it has all the vital information parents, teachers and students need is a deal maker. You can post about all your on-going and upcoming contests, promotions and the like with the goal of adding value to the lives you touch.
Remember positive reinforcement is key and goes a long way in ensuring that your target audience is fed with the right kind and amount of information. With the exodus of information that Generation Z is bombarded with, it is important that you stand out from the crowd.
For this purpose employ the most simple and easily accessible means such us promoting the idea of school breakfast and lunch through everyday school announcements during assembly time or through radio stations. Students need to be reminded that having a good breakfast will keep them alert throughout the day, increase their level of socialization and also help them fare well at school.
8) Celebrating Special Days Around Food
Always keep it fun and interactive to keep student customers coming back for more. Celebrating, for example National School Breakfast Week or keeping a theme for every month can help increase engagement. Breakfast Giveaways are also a great option to consider. Students can take part in poster competitions, new age national food holidays, etc. and just let the creative juices flow. It’s all about channeling the enthusiasm in the right direction and
figuring out what work’s best for you and your school!
9) Taking It To The Corporate Level
Your efforts can be made even more interesting by finding ways to get representatives for your K-12 food service program. Industry organizations who may be interested in being involved in your promotional efforts can help via food donations, volunteering, etc. for a good cause to fulfill corporate social responsibility.
A corporate tag even gets your K-12 operation noticed and gets potential help in advertising and promotions. So, why not get on with building those connections?
10) Know Your Customers
Last but not least, in order for your marketing and promotional efforts to bear fruit, you need to know your customers well! Their perceptions, preferences, needs and wants should be common knowledge. Besides this you also need to have a fair idea of the competition you are facing so that you are able to vigorously market your school breakfast and lunch programs to reach the right audience and create the right impact.
For this purpose, customer surveys are ideal tools to get you started on getting the right insight into what your primary and secondary customers think about you. You can carry out online surveys when it comes to parents and staff. Whereas student customers can be surveyed while they wait in the lunch line or at their tables, as and when time permits.
It’s all about how effectively you plan and strategize to achieve your end goal. Happy Marketing to you!