Online ordering is common in many foodservice businesses but is relatively new to K-12 schools. However, students, staff, and parents expect a modern, convenient experience when selecting and buying food, and schools are no exception. Today’s busy consumers are tech-savvy, have high expectations based on what we’ve heard from school districts we work with, and they love the ability to order their school meals online.

From increased participation in your meal program to more parental engagement with their child’s meals to greater efficiency in meal prep—there are so many benefits to incorporating online ordering into your school meal program.

Step 1: Find the Right Technology Partner

Technology to power your school meal program will allow your staff to run a more efficient process and will increase student participation. The right set of features will include gorgeous templates that can easily be updated and customized. The right technology will also allow students and parents to filter their food choices by allergens and dietary restrictions so that they can easily order and customize meals according to their needs.

The most important component to a successful ordering program is choosing the right technology partner. The best solution will be easy to implement, easy to use, and include a robust feature set for your customers.

Here are 5 things to consider when you’re vetting online ordering platforms:

  • Customization: Online ordering solutions should include customization features, allowing parents, students, and staff to easily customize their food selections.
  • Powerful Templates: You want your online ordering program to be easy to implement and manage. So, when you’re shopping for the right technology partner, be sure to browse the templates that they offer. You want to ensure that the final product represents your school brand and creates a seamless experience for your customers.
  • Order Management: The technology you choose should make your job easier, not harder. That’s why it’s important to choose a solution that has easy-to-use, administrative tools that allow you and your staff to view online orders to efficiently prep orders.
  • User Experience: Students, staff, and parents expect an online experience that is easy to use and helps them find what they want quickly.. So, look for an online ordering tool that allows consumers to filter their meal choices by allergens or other dietary restrictions. Also choosing a tool with a simple, intuitive workflow will keep customers coming back for more.
  • Secure Payment Options: In order to skip the busy cafeteria lines, students and staff need convenient payment options so be sure to choose a technology that works for your foodservice operation.

Step 2: Incorporate Imagery

It’s said that sight is the first sense to be invigorated in a person’s experience with food. Evolving technology has trained the modern-day-consumer to expect great, high-quality images that appeal to their senses. . Cater to this by using photos of your food throughout your online menus. Some digital ordering providers include a large library of images as part of their solution, which saves you time and money.

As we discussed previously, you should make sure that your technology partner offers powerful templates. Use these templates to categorize your food offerings and upload pictures of your food so that students and staff can see it before they order.

Since consumers are so visually driven, students are more likely to order items that have photos. You can embrace this fact by incorporating images of your healthiest food choices to help steer students into making healthier meal choices.

Step 3: Offer Customization

Once your online ordering platform is set up, make sure to offer students and staff easy, intuitive ways to customize orders. Some examples include:

  • Allow them to filter their meals by ingredients so that they can view only the options that meet their dietary needs.
  • Provide a section for them to enter any customizations to their order like “salad dressing on the side” or “no bun” on their burger.
  • Offer simple upgrades like “add bacon” or “double cheese” and provide a la carte options

Step 4: Prepare Your Staff

Implementing online ordering is going to inevitably change the way you do things at your school. Be sure to prepare your staff for this new process. You will want to think through a system to review orders, prep pre-orders, and set up separate, convenient pick-up process. There might be a slight learning curve and experimentation, but in the long run, it’s going to be worth it!

Step 5: Spread the Word

You can’t just implement online ordering and expect it to be a hit immediately. One key to success, though, is to create buzz and excitement around the program with your staff, parents, and students. It doesn’t require a professional marketing department to do that either. Your school district needs to spread awareness about your new online ordering capabilities and encourage them to use it. Here are some simple ways to help spread the word about your new program:

  • Pre-launch and launch emails detailing the new program and offering incentives for participation
  • Short, informative blurbs in your schools’ weekly/monthly newsletters
  • Partner with PTAs and student groups to get the word out and get people excited
  • Create special, pre-order only menus to drive interest, like bento boxes, special sandwich offerings, etc.
  • Offer promotions like “your first order is free!” or “$1 value menu” to encourage trial
  • Use the digital signage in your cafeteria to let students and staff know that they can order their school meals online

Final Thoughts

Consumers have come to expect a customized and intuitive experience when it comes to ordering food. School meals are no exception, and offering the ability to pre-order and customize meals leads to higher food program participation and more efficiency in the cafeteria. If you want to read more about online ordering programs in K-12 schools, check out our eBook for a deep dive into the subject.

Are you considering implementing online ordering at your school? Request a demo of Nutrislice today, and let’s talk about how we can power online ordering at your school!