Marketing is one of the most overlooked areas in school food. As operators, we get so caught up in the rules that we forget who we are there to serve.
People like to feel part of things. They like to be kept informed and in the know. They are drawn by excitement.
Students are people, though we sometimes forget that and treat them like sheep that need to be prodded and herded, with little or no regard to their needs and expectations.
It’s hard to be young and excitable. We forget this too often as we become adults. Being forced to follow rules and perform all day is bad enough, but when your only oasis in this sea of forced servitude (the school café) is also filled with more rules and regulations, why participate?
Many times, we treat our student customers like mushrooms. We keep them in the dark, on what great things we are doing, and expect them to happily eat whatever we tell them to eat.
Would that excite you?
Marketing is the sizzle that sells the steak, the excitement that fills the room, and the concepts that meet their needs and keep them coming back again and again. Too often, we overlook its importance and then wonder why our program is losing money.
Developing and implementing an effective marketing strategy can be accomplished by following several steps. Below are my key steps to effective marketing.
Promote when it is needed, not just to say you did something.
Use your monthly POS sales reports to determine patterns of low or slow participation. These times are usually from the end of August to October, from November to January, and the last week of May through the last day of the school year. Plan promotions and special days during these slow times to create excitement and generate participation.
Don’t keep it to yourself; let customers know what you have planned in advance.
Develop your plans and then let your customers know what you are doing. Reach students through the medias they use, email, texts, social media, and signs in areas they frequent.
Send flyers home to parents, post events on your website, and text a list of special events to parents also. Send flyers to teachers, administrators, and board members. Add these promotions to your board reports or request time at a board meeting to discuss them.
Let everyone who is touched by your program know the exciting new things you are doing. Create excitement by letting everyone know.
You can’t be great on your own; involve your staff.
Share these marketing ideas with your staff and get them excited that something new is happening. The worst thing is to have a great promotion that staff members can’t enjoy with your customers.
Think of a restaurant you have gone to and inquired about one of their special promotions, only to find your server knew nothing about it and didn’t suggest or inform you of what was being promoted. What a letdown.
This happens with many school food promotions. If your staff isn’t excited, your customers won’t be either.
Vendors and manufacturers make great partners.
Involve the companies you work with, as they bring added excitement to the mix. Ask for small prizes, posters or decorations that promote the products or the events. Most companies have these types of items built into their marketing budgets, so utilize them.
Invite manufacturer and vendor representatives to be part of the promotion. The more new faces and bells and whistles, the greater the excitement.
Remember, the more advanced notice and planning time you give your vendors the more they can and will help. Don’t wait until a week before the event to ask.
Utilizing these simple steps, you can develop and implement an effective marketing plan to bolster excitement and participation in your school’s food program.
Milt Miller is director of K-12 Operations at Food Service Solutions, Inc., www.foodserve.com. Throughout his 32 years in the food service industry, he has managed, operated and assisted food service programs to become successful.