After being closed for months, school districts across the country are slowly starting to reopen. And one thing many people are wondering is what the cafeteria situation will look like this year.
During the school day, most kids look forward to their lunch period, only to discover that it’s surprisingly short. For many children, 20 minutes isn’t much time after they wait in a long school lunch line to receive their food.
And now, thanks to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, many school districts are rethinking their cafeteria setup entirely. Having kids tightly packed in lunch lines is not only inefficient, but unsafe and could further the spread of the virus.
So for schools across the U.S., figuring out how to speed up school cafeteria serving lines is a top priority.
How to Minimize School Lunch Lines
Long cafeteria lines are a problem for schools, but fortunately, there are ways to improve this situation. Here is how to make school lunch lines faster:
1. Set up a sanitation station
One of the most important aspects of lunch for students and staff will be to set up a sanitation station. At this station, students can either wash their hands or use hand sanitizer. Frequently touched surfaces should also be cleaned and disinfected on a regular basis.
And schools can help by providing sufficient paper towels, no-touch trash cans, and tissues. Staff members can also educate kids on the proper way to dispose of any used items.
2. Eliminate bottlenecks
Overcrowding is one of the biggest problems schools will need to avoid. It’s not safe to have large groups of students standing in line waiting to receive their food. One of the ways schools can reduce this problem is by setting up markers on the floor. Social distancing markers will help students know how to stay six feet apart and use proper social distancing.
3. Get rid of self-service stations
Previously, many schools set up self-service stations in the cafeteria. Kids could serve themselves salad, an entre, and pick out any other items they wanted. However, this will likely become a thing of the past.
Instead, schools should find a way to pre-package items to minimize contact between students and staff members. And schools should opt away from using serving trays and can use disposable bags instead.
4. Encourage online payments
This year, all families should be encouraged to utilize online payments. When parents pay online, it’s easier to make sure their student’s lunch account is always funded. Online payments will save students from reaching the front of the line only to discover that they are out of lunch money.
When schools incorporate the right school lunch software, parents can pay via credit cards, debit cards, and ACH payments. And they can set up automatic reminders when their child’s lunch balance gets low.
5. Increase cashless payments
For the students who do pay in person, cashless school payments are going to be another way to speed up lunch lines. Parents can put their student’s lunch money on a prepaid card. Students can then scan these cards using either barcode readers or biometric scanners.
6. Use an efficient POS system
If staff members have access to an efficient point-of-sale (POS) system, they’ll be able to move students through the lines much more quickly. Touch screen monitors are easier to navigate and will allow cashiers to customize each student order. And the POS station should be easy for all staff members to navigate, no matter how tech-savvy they are.
7. Have student pre-order their meals
One of the biggest ways schools can cut down on lunch lines is by having students pre-order their meals. When parents sign into the online portal, they can see what meals are available for the following week. They can then pre-order these meals ahead of time.
Pre-ordering is more beneficial for parents and cafeteria staff. It helps parents plan ahead and know what their child will be having for lunch each day. And it helps staff members prepare the food in advance so that the meals are ready and waiting for students once they arrive.
8. Have kids eat on a staggered lunch schedule
One of the best ways to maintain proper social distancing is by reducing the number of students who are in the cafeteria at any one time. Having kids on a staggered lunch schedule is a good way to do this.
A staggered lunch schedule will make it easier for kids to maintain six feet of distance while they’re standing in the lunch line. It will also give them more room to spread out while they’re eating.
9. Deliver meals to the classroom
And finally, schools can eliminate lunch lines altogether by delivering pre-ordered meals to the classroom. Right now, the cafeteria may be too large of a space for students to safely gather. By having students eat lunch in classrooms, they can avoid any overcrowding and maintain six feet of social distance.
Navigating the back-to-school transition in the midst of COVID-19 isn’t going to be easy, but it is possible. By utilizing the nine suggestions outlined in this article, we can ensure that kids stay safe and healthy at school.
The best way for your school to implement many of these procedures is by choosing the right school lunch ordering system. The right system will make it easier for parents to pay online and pre-order meals.
It will also make it easier for your staff to manage inventory levels, increase participation in free and reduced-price lunches, and make sure every kid has what they need.