Published Online: March 20, 2002
Published in Print: March 20, 2002, as Take Note

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Food for Thought

Gooey pizza and mystery meat have long spoiled the reputation of cafeteria food.

Despite recent attempts to provide more tempting and nutritious fare, however, many students still prefer to brown-bag it.

But some cafeteria workers from the 14,000-student Rockdale County, Ga., school system near Atlanta are applying a few new tricks from the marketing trade to get more students to dine in.

Thirty-seven staff members from 16 cafeterias in the district recently took a five-week marketing-management class to learn how to improve customer relations, better advertise their services, and deliver effective, eye-catching promotions to tempt potential diners.

Peggy Lawrence, the food-services director for Rockdale's public schools, who taught the class, said staff members enjoyed the course and took the new ideas into the schools.

They began reaching out to students and teachers by offering nutrition education in classrooms, taste tests, customer surveys, and reward incentives.

One promotion offered elementary school students who purchased breakfast at school free tickets for ice cream at lunch. Participation increased that day by 110 children. "Free ice cream is a big motivation for a 6-year-old," Ms. Lawrence said.

Ms. Lawrence said the district's cafeterias all meet federal nutritional guidelines, and students have a number of choices, including spaghetti with meatballs, freshly tossed salads, grilled-cheese sandwiches, and mixed fruit, as well as hot dogs and hamburgers.

Despite the challenges they face, the cafeterias serve more than 11,500 meals a day on a $5.8 million annual budget, reaching 70 percent of the students in the district. Staff members hope to see those numbers increase over the next few months, and Ms. Lawrence said the class has been inspiring.

"The neatest thing was to see the staff get so excited. A lot of the employees had some good ideas," she said.

—Marianne Hurst

Vol. 21, Issue 27, Page 3

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