7 Ways to Retain Your Very Best School Food Service Employees

Staffing shortages are a big problem. Here are some easy to help your nutrition program with school food service employee retention.

Happy school lunchroom employee

Every job title in education is important to the overall experience and success that students have in school. However, few have quite as great of an impact on students as school foodservice employees

Dedicated lunchroom staff prepare and serve the meals that fill our students’ hungry tummies and fuel their success. School nutrition teams are also the ones who greet everyone, from teachers and administrators to campus visitors, who are grabbing a bite to eat. 

At a time when staffing shortages are affecting industries across the globe, it is more important than ever to retain the people who have stuck around and are doing the important work of keeping schools running. 

Here are some excellent ideas for boosting retention by supporting your school nutrition employees.

How You Can Boost School Food Service Employee Retention 

1. Adjust Shifts to Offer Flexibility

School nutrition employees are a huge asset. They don’t shy away from hard work and, lucky for them, there is plenty of it! 

For those who want or need extra hours, create year-round positions so that there is a team in place for the summer months. This provides consistency throughout the program and helps team members prepare for the upcoming school year. 

During the year, offer flexibility in hours to offset the heavy workload—for example, by developing assistant manager positions to create a shift from 10am to 6pm. It provides an avenue for professional development while also boosting coverage during busy times.

2. Give Genuine and Sincere Feedback 

Conversations between employees and their team leads are such an important, yet often overlooked, aspect of any job. Your team members want to know what you think of their work. So, be intentional about communicating your feedback!

If you see a member of your team doing something well, let them know. If there is something that could use improvement, have a conversation about it and offer ideas of what they can do better. 

Just fifteen minutes of your time every month or so can do wonders for keeping the line of communication open between you and your team. 

3. Empower School Food Service Employees to Share New Ideas

The role of every person in an administrative position is to keep things running as smoothly and efficiently as possible. However, no one knows how to do that better than the people on the front lines, doing the work day in and day out. 

Let your team know you value their input, and ask for their thoughts and ideas. Whether you’re looking for new ideas on the student experience or the way that inventory and reporting are done, turn to them for feedback when looking for ways to improve your campus food service. 

Keep an open-door policy, ensuring your team knows they can come to you with new ideas. And give opportunities to those who may not feel comfortable speaking out through a suggestion box or surveys.

4. Emphasize the Value of School Cafeteria Positions 

The job of foodservice employees is an invaluable one. They not only make sure that students are nourished and ready to learn, but they have an impact on almost every person at your campus. 

Make sure that they know how valuable their school cafeteria position is through recognition and appreciation, and encourage others at your school to do the same.

Share employee shout-outs with others at your campus, or in your school nutrition newsletter. Post signs in your cafeteria encouraging visitors to thank a school nutrition worker. A simple “thank you for everything you do” from your boss can go a long way, but imagine it also coming from a student, a teacher, and a parent—that kind of validation that comes from making a difference shows the level of their impact.

5. Streamline Service Through Technology

Think about all the things that your team handles throughout the day and ask yourself the following:

Now imagine how much simpler their workday would be if they had access to a system that handled all of that for them – beautiful, isn’t it? 

By investing in technology that offers automation for daily processing tasks and regular reporting, you save your team valuable time that they can spend on what really matters – ensuring students have nutritious meals to fuel their learning each day. 

6. Provide Opportunities for Professional Development  

Employees are far more likely to stay with an organization that invests in them as people. A component of that means offering opportunities for professional development. This can include training on systems and processes they use day-to-day. Perhaps there are online courses for skills they personally want to work on, such as time management or mental health. 

Ask your team what professional development they would be interested in, and offer paid time for them to pursue it. Your team is your most valuable asset. And any investment you make in them and their well-being will be returned to you in the long run.

7. Have a Little Fun 

Now more than ever, people are looking for genuine human connection sprinkled with a little laughter. Especially in an environment like school nutrition, it’s possible to add layers of fun to everyday tasks. 

Encourage your team to dress up for school spirit days, decorate the school cafeteria and service line to match the items on the menu, bring students into the kitchen and have your team teach them how to prepare food. 

Sharing experiences with others is not only fun, it’s also tremendously rewarding, and a way to help your team feel more like a community, not just a group of co-workers.

Using these ideas to support the development, morale, and recognition of your food service employees is a win-win for all. What better way to improve retention than by celebrating the hard work of those who are on the front lines of nourishing students, teachers, and staff?