An ever-growing number of K-12 school districts are experiencing the advantages that come from outsourcing their meal programs. Among many things, these positives include the increased revenue that comes with happier students and improved meal participation and the cost savings that result from the implementation of proven operational processes.
Yet some districts, communities and parents still shy away from the concept because of some powerful misconceptions. Often just hearing the term “outsourcing” evokes a negative response — a fear of losing valued staff members, an unwelcome change in food variety as food service companies are only concerned with their own financial objectives and the end of generations-old in-house traditions that come about when the district “loses control”.
But as school officials in districts that previously rejected outsourcing can attest, considering privatization for the food service program enabled them to leverage a multitude of important advantages offered by external management partners. Now, their programs are more productive, achieve significant cost savings and earn high grades from their students.
Is your district being held back from achieving similar benefits because you or your community still believe common misconceptions? If so, it may be time for a “reality check” to determine what you’re missing and what you could gain from a school meal program partner.
Misconception 1: Outsourcing will reduce current staff wages, hours and benefits — or put our school’s beloved employees out of work.
Reality Check: It’s a common misconception that all outsourcing partners arrive with their own staff, thereby putting valued employees and community members out of work.
However, quality partners realize the value of retaining existing staff members who are committed to their jobs, schools and the students they serve. Special care of your dining staff members begins during the transition from a school-run program to a partner-run program and continues throughout the relationship.
While employees will need to apply for positions and pass all background checks, many are able to not only retain their jobs but also often enjoy more competitive wages, improved benefits and professional development opportunities. Employees will have access to specialized job training in the latest and best food service management practices and modern kitchen techniques and, based on their performance, are often rewarded for their achievements both financially and with career advancement opportunities.
These opportunities not only benefit existing meal-program employees, but the district as a whole.
Misconception 2: Large “for profit” companies are motivated by their own financial objectives and don’t care about our students and community.
Reality Check: This misconception typically arises from districts’ overall perception of large corporations in general, rather than specifically about school meal-program partners. In reality, the most effective food and nutrition services partners not only care about your students and the district, but can improve the quality of life for students and the community as a whole.
For example, great partners launch nutritional awareness programs that promote healthy habits, participate in community events, job fairs and make efforts to partner with locally owned companies. If the products meet procurement quality and safety standards, an outsourcing partner may even source ingredients from local farms and purveyors, which supports the community’s economy.
Another thing to keep in mind is that a conscientious meal-program partner will look beyond the day-to-day operation of your school cafeteria and recognize the ever-changing food preferences of K-12 students, thereby working to meet their desires, so they actually enjoy school meals and participate in the meal program more often.
For example, Aramark conducts an annual survey to understand students’ ever changing attitudes and behaviors about school meals. Through our proprietary Student ViewPOINT Dining surveys, school districts gain valuable and actionable insights, such as:
- Students will eat breakfast at school twice as often if offered more foods they prefer
- Students will eat more lunches at school if they have more convenient options, easily accessible in a shortened period of time
- Students prefer to eat lunch at school when presented in a food court style with different, dedicated food stations
- Students expect to see food promotions and new menu highlights as they would in a retail setting
- Students will make healthier choices if freshly prepared options, fruits and vegetables are available
Misconception 3: We’ve handled our own dining services for generations without problems, and we don’t want to lose control.
Reality Check: Your district’s meal-program staff members undoubtedly take great pride in their ability to deliver a consistent food program that students love, meets government regulations and stays on budget. But, while these critical objectives may have been easy to accomplish in the past, we’re living in a very different world: Student tastes have evolved, regulations are stricter and budgets are growing tighter. Even the best in-house meal program teams are becoming strained under mounting pressure. Why spend countless tax dollars and struggle to reach goals when you could easily exceed them with budget to spare? Often, community members and even school staff members aren’t aware of the financial drawbacks, funding issues, difficulty keeping up with USDA regulations and other issues districts face when they choose to manage everything in-house. Outsourcing and working with an experienced food service provider will help make better use of tax dollars and ensure kids are getting the nutritious meals they need to do well in school.
Furthermore, a trusted partner brings proven operational processes to your district — from meal production and safety to sanitation and waste management. These highly refined processes help schools realize greater operational efficiencies. By working with an experienced partner, you won’t lose control — you’ll continue to oversee the operation in partnership with the service provider and, using a collaborative approach, you’ll also gain helpful insights and access to resources that ensure long term program success for the whole district.
What Can You Do? Now that we’ve debunked these common misconceptions, let’s talk about your next steps. When choosing an outsourcing partner, it’s imperative you select a provider you can trust to uphold your community values and support your students’ ongoing success. Ensure the partner you choose has a reliable strategy.
For example, Aramark meets today’s intensifying challenges head-on in five critical ways:
- Delivering meal programs that meet USDA requirements for nutritional standards set forth in the Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act
- Leveraging experienced school nutrition teams, proven operational processes and resource networks
- Bringing innovative ideas to menu planning and the cafeteria environment
- Using annual student survey data to help develop menus based on students actual food preferences
- Delivering a financially viable food service program that minimizes use of general fund dollars to subsidize the food program or generates a surplus for reinvestment back into the district
When a school meal-program partner has the right systems, processes and expertise in place, offers staff training and advancement opportunities — student satisfaction and participation, regulation compliance and the financial viability of the program all increase. Why let outdated misconceptions hold your school’s meal program back from being even better in the future than it is today?