2017 K-12 census: Hiring notice

lunch line students

With new top brass taking office in Washington, K-12 operators may soon see changes to child nutrition regulations, budgets and other key areas. But for now, they’ve got a different fight on the home front: hiring, training and retaining the best teams possible. For an update on these and other issues, FoodService Director magazine enlisted market research firm and sister company Technomic to survey our readers for the 2017 K-12 Census.

Who we surveyed

212 foodservice directors

  • 90% self-operated
  • 8% contract managed
  • 2% partly self-operated and partly contract-managed

48%—Average percentage of students who qualify for free or reduced-price lunches

6,482—Average student enrollment in each district

Budgets on the brain

On average, the operators we surveyed are serving 4,644 meals at breakfast and 9,025 meals at lunch, a decrease from 5,017 at breakfast and 10,194 at lunch in 2016. Along with these standard meals, 30% say they offer an after-school meal program/dinner, 42% a summer feeding program and 19% a separate type of service such as catering or after-school tutoring snacks.

What are your gross annual food and beverage purchases?

gross annual purchases

What percentage of your students qualify for free or reduced-price meals?

District size (students)Average percentage off free/reduced-price students
Less than 2,00048%
2,000 to 4,99945%
5,000 to 9,99938%
10,000 to 69,99952%
70,000 or more72%

Expected increase of food trends in the next two years:

  • 29% gluten-free items
  • 28% vegetarian items
  • 27% DIY stations
  • 8% Organic items
  • 5% Vegan items

Keeping it fresh

Scratch cooking and local sourcing are booming among the operators we surveyed: 56% and 55% of operators, respectively, expect these trends to increase in the next two years. That growth is especially noticeable among operators in the South; increases of 67% and 63%, respectively, are anticipated. 

cep chart

Time on their side?

While less than half (41%) of operators say they have struggled with decreased lunch periods, 11% anticipate issues with time in the future. But as enrollment increases, so do the problems with time; while 30% of operators in districts with fewer than 2,000 students say they are experiencing a time crunch, 50% of those in districts with 10,000 to 69,999 students and 80% of those with more than 70,000 say the same.

Lunch period length, in minutes:

lunch period length chart

Percentages may not add up to 100 due to rounding

How are you tackling issues with decreased lunch periods?

  • Trying to speed up our lines
  • More convenience foods to speed up the lunch lines; however, this is not favorable from a meal quality perspective
  • Letting principals know through surveys with parents and students
  • Pre-plating foods
  • Working with administrators to have uniform lunch periods throughout the district
  • You can’t—work faster

delivery program chart

Team spirit?

Operators’ biggest wish for their teams? More time for training. Nearly half (47%) of those surveyed say they struggle with finding the time to adequately prep their staff. Close behind in staffing challenges were recruiting (44%), morale/motivation (40%), absenteeism (40%) and salaries/minimum wage changes (32%). Here’s how those issues shook out across a variety of district sizes.

Operators’ Top 5 biggest staffing challenges, by district enrollment:

staffing challenges chart

Other foodservice staffing challenges:

other challenges graphic

What is the biggest issue you would like help with in your operation?

  • Increased funding for equipment and training  
  • Some relaxation in the guidelines for sodium and whole grains  
  • New ideas for menus 
  • Finding new employees with the right motivation  
  • Better equipment  
  • Helping people understand we are here to help, not to hinder
  • Continued support with getting to work on time  
  • For teachers to talk to kids about the importance of eating right
  • How to do more with less (people, money, time)  
  • Changing old perceptions of how work is to be performed
  • Having time to interact with the kids, do taste tests and make the staff and kids feel appreciated  
  • Printed material for continuing education  
  • Updated computers  
  • Support for programs not on the NSLP  
  • Adding healthy items the students would like to eat

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