Appealing to “The Senses” in School Serveries
Written by Tim Christianson — September 8, 2016
We all know that the challenges facing School Foodservice are always-changing and the list of demands never gets shorter! As a result, servery equipment must be designed with not only flexibility in mind, but also the intent to create an “appealing customer experience.”
Kids today have more choices than ever when they wander out into the public realm, and the way merchants market to them is drastically different than when most of us grew up. We have all heard the old adage that we “eat with our eyes,” and while I believe that saying is 100% accurate, the most effective way to create additional demand for certain products is to not only incorporate the visual appeal, but pull more of the senses into the equation. For example, when we roll into Starbucks one is immediately blasted with the aromas of coffee (sense of smell), then move to the counter and are hit with a plethora of visual eye candy to include cooking in front of the house, visual merchandising of food and beverages as well as other goods (sense of sight), and lastly we can even hear the coffee brewing and the chatter of the customers, etc. (sense of hearing.)
So what does Starbucks or one of the many giant brands have to do with how we in schools should be marketing to our kids—EVERYTHING! The days of only offering the basics in both food product and the way you showcase them to generate revenue for your program are GONE, and in order to embrace these outside influencers we must look to see how we can incorporate more of these “sensory appeals” into your programs.
While meeting the demands of the governmental restraints/ constraints of school foodservice alone may seem daunting end ever-changing, couple that with the goal of increasing your participation rate and growing your revenue. Some may not know where to begin with this overhaul! I would like to offer a few tips below that can have a very large impact on your bottom-line.
Bring Cooking to the Front of the House:
Theater for the eyes & ears and aroma generation for the nose!
In my opinion one of the largest “game-changers” in school foodservice is bringing the cooking and preparation of food product in front of the customer—your students! Up until recently, there were not many options to accomplish this without having to invest in very expensive new hood systems. However, now there are many high-speed ovens on the market that provide “VENTLESS” options— meaning you can create a pseudo on-demand cooking station anywhere—no limits with the exception of getting power to the oven!
I would challenge you all to not only look at the high-schools, but start incorporating this technology and methodology into the operations at all of your locations. One great example of this is the high speed oven now in use at Stonybrook Middle School at Warren Township Schools.
They brought the cooking out from the back of the house; cooking pizzas traditionally out of the convection ovens like many of you, to cooking directly behind the line. The students will literally stand in front of the line and count down the timer to see the pizza come out steaming hot—RIGHT IN FRONT OF THEM! What has this done for sales? On average, their pizza sales have increased by almost double at this school. Due to its success the management decided to invest in these ovens and this methodology at all of the middle schools and high schools. Other examples include creating a from-scratch pizza program and cooking the product right in front of the students or, in the case of Fair Oaks Farms, cooking those delicious grilled cheese sandwiches in front of all patrons (roughly 60,000 from April-July)!
Up your Game in Displaying your Refrigerated and Heated Product!
One of the greatest areas of improvement for most schools is utilizing different vehicles to “display and merchandise” both cold and hot products. As our team is asked to replace aged servery equipment, we find that most schools are using their equipment for ways in which it was not originally intended due to the growing demands of the number of fresh fruits and veggies that must be offered. As a result, many schools are now using “hot” wells as “cold” wells and using ice or cooling packs/pans to keep product cold. This practice does not create the “eye-appeal” to really make the product pop, nor does it allow for easy to access in the line-of-sight! Many directors have incorporated equipment in the past to do this type of operation, however, many of these still have doors thus limiting the potential positive impact of ease-of-access to the product being displayed/sold. If you ask any directors who have made the investment in OPEN-AIR MERCHANDISERS if they have impacted their bottom line, the vast majority, in my opinion, will tell you that they have made a huge positive impact.
There are many different refrigerated merchandisers on the market and the most important thing to consider is whether or not the merchandiser hold up in warmer environments that most schools operate in as a result of temperature management systems. I would highly recommend searching out ONLY units that have TYPE 2 refrigeration which will accommodate ambient temperatures up to 80 degrees and ambient humidity levels of 60%. Do your homework on these to determine how they will interact in your own environment before purchasing!
Change the look of your serving pans
There is a plethora of different serving pan options on the market, but one simple change that will have a huge impact is moving from the traditional stainless steel 12×20 steam table pans to black melamine pans as pictured. You will notice in the picture how much more the color of the carrots and broccoli pop out rather than blending into the pan from which they are served. Another option is to transform your “traditional wells” into more of a merchandising statement. For example, there are a variety of pans out there that will change your hot wells into soup wells as shown below. The options are endless—explore them!
While many schools I visit have made the investment in beautiful signage to compliment the cafeteria and servery areas, there are very few who have made the investment in the other area that can make a drastic impact on the feel of the space— MERCHANDISING. As you will see from the below pictures you can turn a very simple servery into a space that is inviting and warm. It appears to the students that the food is different just by how it is displayed.
Incorporating simple food markers as shown in the pictures below or enhancing the space with with greenery, color and elevation will enhance the look and increase your bottom-line.
In reality there are many unique and creative ways (these are just a few) to enhance your foodservice operations and appeal to a wider-variety of the senses than just the “visual eye-appeal” without breaking the bank. I would encourage you to seek out professionals who can assist you in these endeavors. There are many good people in our market to serve you…many of which are ISNA Industry Partners!