Redecorating Makes Austin Cafeterias 'Cool' Places To Be

When Texas mandated that schools make a la carte foods more nutritious, food service departments in many districts saw revenue drop. But not Austin, one of the state's largest districts.

And its assistant food service director, Yvonne Seiders, is convinced that completely revamping four of the district's dining rooms and sprucing up all the others in the district was a major reason for weathering the shift.

Before the makeover in the district's largest high school, the cafeteria was 'pretty empty,' Seiders said. 'Now, it's packed. It's considered a cool place to hang out,' she said.

Cost and timetable.

The nutrition and food service department had accumulated a significant savings account, Seiders said. 'Over the years, we've been very cost-conscious, and the account had so much in it that internal auditors said we needed to spend it,' she said. Auditors recommended the spending be done within two years, she said -- enough time to refresh serving areas on every campus.

A $1.7 million project that started in April 2004 and was completed that August completely revamped dining rooms at the district's four high schools and decorated every one of the serving areas at the other 100 campuses. Bright colors and banners were used in elementary and middle schools. In high schools, school mascots and colors were incorporated. The theme for the decorations at each high school reflected the community and students it served, Seiders said, giving each a distinctive look.

Advice to consider

Seiders set up a team and arranged for designers to get ideas from stakeholders - students, parents and groups selected by school principals. What should you consider before attempting a revamp in your district? Here are a few suggestions from Seiders on what to consider before you meet with a designer:
✔ What are your goals? What do you want to accomplish?
✔ Which schools will you focus on?
✔ How much do you want to involve students in decision-making?
✔ What is your timeline and your budget?

From Managing School Business: Solutions for Finance, Operations, Personnel and Your Career - Volume 12, Issue 11.

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