College is officially in session, and much to their chagrin, the pandemic has transformed campus life as students know it. While residential dining halls once brought students together for a sense of community, social distancing guidelines are keeping them apart. As a result, universities and colleges are adopting grab-n-go strategies to keep their students safe and well-fed. Ensure your grab-n-go meal program “makes the grade” with these five tips.
1. Modify your menu for portability
With grab-n-go at the center of your operation, you’ll most likely need to make some menu tweaks. For example, you may have to say sayonara to build-your-own salads. But, that doesn’t mean you have to bid farewell to salads altogether. Bypass the sanitation concerns and instead offer a few garden-fresh, prepackaged salads. Or if you have popular hot menu items that don’t travel easily, adapt or deconstruct them into trendy grab-n-go bowls. If necessary, pare down your menu (and your expenses) and simplify, so you’re only offering entrees that are conducive to grab-n-go service.
2. Convert your existing equipment to be grab-n-go-friendly
Modifying your service model shouldn’t mean you have to start from scratch with new equipment. Get creative and see if you can convert any of your existing equipment to meet your grab-n-go needs. For example, turn the heated wells you use at your buffet into grab-n-go shelves by adding heated well covers (here’s how!). And keep your to-go fare at optimum serving temperature by placing it under your buffet warmers. While we’re talking temperature, make sure your cold well space doesn’t go to waste — keep it cool. If your cold wells are adequately chilled, they can keep prepackaged and prechilled items, such as sandwiches, salads, and cold drinks, fresh and ready to go. A little out-of-the-box thinking goes a long way, and by repurposing current equipment, you’ll save on space and cut back on costs.
3. Equip your operation for to-go orders
While you should repurpose your equipment where possible, you may need to complement your creative solutions with some new equipment. Shifting to grab-n-go service means you’ll need equipment that makes it safer and easier for students to grab their food and go. Two innovative new equipment types — food lockers and heated shelves (or a new spin on them) — offer state-of-the-art solutions for just this. Food lockers enable foodservice operators to hold to-go orders in a secure, temperature-controlled locker until they’re ready for pickup. And, while heated shelves aren’t new, they come in all shapes and sizes, including models that are specifically designed for to-go service. Beyond preserving food temperature and quality, they allow for frictionless loading and unloading, and can accommodate large volumes of food.
4. Assess takeout container needs
Once you’ve made over your menu and know what you’re offering, it’s time to start planning your packaging needs. From bowls to takeout boxes, and everything in between, take inventory of what kind of takeout containers you’ll need. As you’re exploring options, look for ways to add an extra layer of safety, whether that’s a tamper-resistant container or tamper-evident labels. Now more than ever, those sanitation measures are important to students. And while environmental concerns may have taken a backseat in the face of the pandemic, consumers — especially young ones like students — care about sustainability, so go for eco-friendly packaging if it’s an option.
5. Clearly communicate cafeteria changes
Proactively communicate dining hall changes, such as menu updates or adjustments in the type of service you’re offering. Along with those changes, prepare students for new practices, such as mask requirements, new hours, or limitations (e.g., one visit per day). Communicate the changes in more ways than one, including email, a newsletter, and physical posters outside and inside the cafeteria. Not only will this help to set expectations for students, but it’ll help them do their part in following regulations to keep everyone safe.
Have a glance at our grab-n-go equipment.
From cashier shields to holding cabinets, warmers, and beyond, we’ve got equipment galore to keep your dining hall safe and ready for grab-n-go service. But in addition to our tried-and-true standbys, make sure to check out our latest grab-n-go solutions here.