The Beginners Guide to Online Ordering in K‑12 Schools

mobile device with serving platter and text messages on the device screen and dark blue background online ordering for k-12 schools

Students are more tech-savvy than ever and parents are seeking solutions to feed their children healthy lunches, so there’s a reason online ordering is gaining popularity in K‑12 school meal programs nationwide. 

Online ordering is a powerful school meals management software feature that enables students, families and staff to view and order cafeteria meals without ever stepping foot in the lunchroom.

With the same software used to make payments and access menus, students and families can customize and submit meal orders all from an easy-to-use online interface.

Students and Families Love Online Ordering

Online ordering provides a more inclusive and interactive school meal experience:

  • Early menu access so families can plan accordingly
  • Transparency so that parents know what their children are eating
  • Easy online payment options with automatic reminders
  • Customizable meals for dietary purposes or personal preferences
  • Less time waiting in lines, more time refueling for the busy afternoon ahead

You and Your Staff Win, Too

With online ordering, you too reap the benefits:

  • Increased student participation
  • Inventory management so simple it’s practically done for you
  • Reduced meal debt from online payments
  • Pre-ordered meals can be prepped in advance
  • Shorter lunch lines and faster serving time

Offering an option to pre-order cafeteria meals comes with major perks for everyone involved. 

Are you considering online ordering for your K‑12 school, but not sure where to start? In this post, we’ll guide you step-by-step on how to incorporate online ordering into your cafeteria and how to make the most of everything it has to offer. 

Choose the Right Technology for Your School

There are a lot of software options out there. How do you find the right fit for your school? Here are some top considerations to keep in mind while vetting online ordering platforms:

User Experience

This is super important because if you select an online ordering platform that is difficult to use, you will have a tough time getting buy-in from families, students and your staff. Test run the software or ask to see a demo before committing. 

Integrations With Your Other Tools

Choose software that links with your SIS so that you always have accurate and real-time student data such as food allergies and dietary restrictions. It also helps to have your online ordering platform connected to your menu and inventory management. 


We touch on this more in the next section — customization is a huge advantage of online ordering. You’ll want to ensure your online ordering platform offers customization of meal orders that is intuitive and flexible.

Secure Online Payment 

Displaying online payment options for families while they’re pre-ordering student meals is one of the best ways to improve your collection rate.

In addition to making online payment super accessible, you’ll also want to make sure the financial data you collect is secure by choosing a payment tool that has permission-based access and is PCI-DSS compliant.


Today, 81% of Americans own a smartphone and 52% of all website traffic is generated from mobile phones. That means more than half of the visitors to your online ordering platform will do so using a tiny screen. Always, always test your mobile experience so that students, families and staff can pre-order meals from anywhere.


Imagine there is an outage or your system goes down within minutes of lunchtime. Do you have a troubleshooting guide or someone to call?

Choosing a provider with top-notch support is vital when adopting new technology. Ask your rep how accessible their support team will be and how much guidance they provide during the onboarding process. 

Consider Your Customization Process

Did you know 1-in-13 children have food allergies? That’s two per class! Almost half of those with food allergies have already experienced a severe allergic reaction, many times at school. 

One major benefit of online ordering is that parents and children can customize meal orders to prevent allergic reactions. You can make that process easier by:

  • Including ingredients and other nutrition information on each menu item
  • Providing a field for families to add notes like “sauce on the side” or “no cheese please” 
  • Testing your customization process on a smartphone

Prepare Your Staff

Lunchtime can be hectic and with online ordering, your staff can get a portion of the legwork done ahead of time. This can eliminate a significant amount of stress from your team. 

More likely than not, your staff will be thrilled about having student meal orders in advance. However, online ordering can feel like a major change and preparations will need to take place to get everyone on board for a smooth transition. 

Include your team in the onboarding process with your rep or show them a demo to generate some excitement. In the beginning, the change may seem daunting. Remind your team of the benefits in the long run. 

Prepare Your Lunchroom

To incorporate student meal pre-order pickup, you’ll need to make adjustments to the layout of the cafeteria. 

We recommend placing a pre-order pickup area, ticketing system, and staff member separate from the main line. That way your staff can ensure correct orders are being picked up and the regular line will move quicker too!

However, not all meals are eaten in the cafeteria. Online ordering makes food service beyond the lunchroom easier, too.

Service Beyond the Lunchroom

The current education landscape shifted drastically due to COVID-19 and social distancing measures, and school nutrition departments had to find a way to serve students wherever they were.

This is the new normal in school food service, and online ordering helps facilitate orders for individuals or large groups. No matter how you plan to get meals to students and staff, online ordering can help you feed groups large and small.

Online ordering helps you to accept orders for the following:

Classroom Orders: Schools will incorporate more classroom meals to keep students and staff distanced. Online ordering makes it possible for teachers and staff to order meals by class rosters, reducing the number of students in your lunchroom and making homeroom serving more efficient.

Grab & Go Orders: There is a huge possibility that many schools will continue to incorporate remote learning in the foreseeable future, so meals will have to be provided to those off-campus students. Online ordering allows you to accept bulk orders for on and off-site pick up locations, allowing students to grab their meals and go.

Mobile Orders: Allow students and staff members to skip the lunch line altogether with mobile ordering. Meals orders can be placed right on a student’s phone and scheduled for pick up. This helps to keep everyone safe and healthy.

Event Orders: Whether students need to order food for a social event or the PTA wants to provide food during a meeting, your school community won’t have to look outside of the lunchroom to cater events.

Promote, Promote, Promote

“If you build it, they will come.” This motto may only apply to Kevin Costner and his infamous baseball field. Now that you’ve got your online ordering system in place, you have to spread the word for the orders to start rolling in.

Promote online ordering using your digital displays, email newsletters, and school events. Offer incentives like discounts for early ordering or your first order free. Once you’ve created some excitement about the program, families are sure to jump on board in a hurry. 

For even more information about how to market your school meals program, check out our whitepaper packed full of tips and tools to increase participation.

While some effort and preparation are required upfront, the benefits are clear. Adding online ordering to your K‑12 school meals program creates a more engaging experience for students and families while streamlining your operations to be more efficient than ever.

Selecting the right tool, getting your staff on board, testing the user experience and promoting the program will make for a smooth transition and a massively successful launch.

Students, families, and your team will thank you too!