How to Improve Your School Cafeteria Procedures

Happy two little boys sitting on floor at home, large copy space-1As students begin to head back to school, no one is quite sure what the year is going to look like. Many of the “normal” school procedures we’ve come to rely on just don’t work anymore in light of the coronavirus pandemic.

School administrators have to rethink how they do many of their daily routines. And one of the most significant areas that will have to change is the school cafeteria procedures.

It’s no longer feasible to have 300 kids crowded into the cafeteria together at one time. Staff members need a way to minimize the crowding in the cafeteria, give students room to spread out and incorporate proper social distancing procedures.

So as an educator, how can your school incorporate the best school cafeteria procedures for the school year?

6 School Cafeteria Best Practices

One of the challenges many educators face is creating new procedures that keep students safe and create a positive learning experience for students. It’s no small feat, and will take some trial and error, but here are some best practices you can try:

  • Create a positive environment: Even in light of social distancing procedures, it’s important to create a positive lunchroom environment students will enjoy. Make sure students have enough time to eat and a way to socialize with their friends -- even if it’s from a distance.

    One of the things that can help is having students go to recess before lunch. Studies have shown that students are more relaxed and behave better at lunch when they go to recess first.

  • Make the room comfortable: The lighting in the room can have a big impact on student behavior. Opt for natural lighting instead of fluorescent lights, which can cause headaches. If that’s not an option, incandescent bulbs are a better choice.

    It’s also important to think about the temperature and comfort of the room. Try to regulate the room temperature at 68 degrees.
  • Rethink the seating arrangements: One of the biggest things that will have to change about your cafeteria procedures is the seating arrangements. Schools can’t allow students to be crowded into one area anymore.

    Make sure the tables and chairs are evenly spaced out so students can sit six feet apart from each other. Students can still talk and socialize, but from a distance.
  • Encourage cleanliness: Teachers are going to have to work with students to encourage cleanliness and teach them how to clean up after themselves. When students come into the lunchroom, have them wash their hands or use hand sanitizer.

    Stress the importance of not sharing items with classmates, and encourage them to clean up after themselves once they’re finished eating. And show students how to properly dispose of items like tissues and napkins.


  • Have students pre-order meals: One of the best ways schools can cut down on cafeteria lines and encourage social distancing is by having students pre-order their meals. You can do this with a school lunch ordering software.
    At the beginning of the week, parents can log into their student’s online account and see the meals for the week. They can place their order ahead of time, so the cafeteria staff knows what to expect.
    Then when students come to the cafeteria, the meals are ready and waiting for them. That way, students can quickly get their meals and sit down, instead of waiting in a lunch line. And this gives them more time to eat and socialize.
  • Consider other lunchtime arrangements: And finally, some schools may need to rethink the cafeteria arrangement altogether. Social distancing in the cafeteria may be too difficult, and in that case, schools can utilize other formats.

    For instance, you can have students eat in their classrooms instead. This keeps the group numbers small and makes social distancing possible. Or you could have students eat lunch on a rotating schedule, so there aren't so many students in the cafeteria at once.



5 Steps to Improve School Cafeteria Procedures

Now that you have some ideas for improving your school’s cafeteria procedures, how do you actually go about implementing them? Here are four steps to get you started:

1. Outline about the problem

The first place to start is by outlining the problem you’re trying to solve. You have to understand the current problem before you can start coming up with solutions.

What are your current cafeteria procedures, and how are they incompatible with social distancing? What are the processes that need to be changed first?

And how will you know if your solution is successful? Write up a short statement defining what success looks like, and how you will know you’ve achieved it.

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2. Assess your current procedures

Now you want to assess your current cafeteria procedures and make note of any issues. You can do this by making note of the cafeteria layout, taking notes and talking to other staff members about their ideas for improvement.

How many students are in the cafeteria at any one time? How much time does the staff have between lunch periods to clean and sanitize tables? Once you understand the current procedures, you can begin to come up with solutions.

3. Brainstorm solutions

Now that you understand the problem, it’s time to start brainstorming solutions. And one of the easiest ways to start is by looking at what other schools are doing to solve the problem.

How are other schools handling overcrowding in the cafeteria and cutting down on the time spent in lunch lines? How are they able to ensure that students sit six feet apart in the cafeteria?

Make a list of all the possible solutions you could implement, and start writing out some possible scenarios. Be sure to share your ideas with other staff members and get feedback.

Free School Lunch Program Survey Templates

4. Implement your final design

Once you’ve outlined the problem and come up with some solutions, it’s time to implement your final design. Do the new cafeteria procedures solve the problem you outlined in the first step? Implementing your new cafeteria procedures may take some tweaking, but in time, you’ll get it right.

5. Streamline the process with the right software

One of the easiest ways to improve the cafeteria experience for students and staff is to use a POS system that meets your needs. At Vanco, we’ve helped schools and districts across the country streamline their lunch procedures with our software. Check out our school lunch POS Software page to learn more. 



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