How our USA colleagues are adapting their school dining services

Small group of university students sit around a glass table eating lunch. Promoting food service in a university setting

Despite high vaccination rates in the UK, uncertainty persists as school dining services take on the monumental task of feeding students. Luckily, kitchen staff can look to last year’s experiences and each other for inspiration—much of which comes from across the pond.

Although the US faces a fair share of its own challenges, American colleges and universities have found some success with serving food while keeping students and staff safe.

So, what are schools in the US doing to keep their students safe and full? Here are a few of the most successful US strategies that school dining services in the UK can improve upon.

Increase the number of dining locations

At Gettysburg College in Pennsylvania, dining services found a simple, effective solution for feeding students in a way that avoids overcrowding. To start with, they increased the number of dining locations on campus. In one instance, these expanded locations included a giant tent pitched on an athletic field. Other options included outdoor commons areas, courtyards and car parks.

These open-air locations provide practical options for when the weather is good. But when the days get cooler, schools can turn to large indoor areas, such as basketball courts, fieldhouses or even indoor student commons areas located in dormitories.

And if that isn’t quite enough to reduce crowding, dining services can take a page out of Cornell University’s playbook. Rather than closing dining halls, Cornell prevented overcrowding by having students make reservations at the university dining center using the booking app OpenTable.

Offer dorm & classroom delivery options

Throughout the US, dining services are delivering meals directly to classrooms or even individual dormitory rooms. Although dormitory and classroom delivery requires more work from dining services, it significantly reduces overcrowding in dining halls.

So, how are dining services able to make this system work? Sophisticated food labelling systems like the DateCodeGenie® help make dormitory and classroom delivery possible.

Beyond printing standard food labels that contain ingredients, allergens and nutritional facts, the DateCodeGenie can also create bespoke labels with the names and ID numbers of individual students—a feature that can help kitchen staff deliver orders to the right pupils.

Custom labelling machine DateCodegenie prints food labels and safety information on a counter next to food containers with various fruits and vegetables while the hands of a worker is in the foreground

Implement meal pickup programs

For schools that lack the resources to effectively operate a dorm delivery system, meal pickup programs offer another option for keeping contact low.

At the College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor, Maine, dining services gave students the option to pick up a scratch-made meal each day. The college even provided a set of bamboo cutlery for students to reuse throughout the year.

A food service worker wearing a brown apron stacks containers of food with food safety labels on a counter next to a paper bag

Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, offered students a similar option. All students had to do was order ahead through a texting program before picking up their boxed meal from one of the many pickup areas scattered throughout campus.

Similar to Vanderbilt, Cornell University also decided to adopt a meal pickup program. Instead of sending meals out in single-use containers, dining services at Cornell issued reusable to-go containers that students could return after finishing their meals.

Double down on grab-and-go

Close-up image of food in a clear plastic containers stacked on top of one another representing Grab-and-go food options

The more grab-and-go options students have to choose from, the less likely they’ll be to dine in crowded refectories and dining halls. Grab-and-go provides easy access to popular foods that travel well. That’s especially true for busy, on-the-go students trying to catch a meal between classes, homework, intramural sports and late-night study sessions. Plus, grab-and-go greatly reduces contact between students and dining staff. It’s a win-win.

Invest in an automated labelling solution

No matter what schools decide to do this year, they’ll need an efficient labelling system that helps meals get to the right students and classrooms. That’s where the DateCodeGenie automated labelling system can provide a solution.

A chef or food service worker uses a DateCodeGenie food labelling system to print off food safety labels with plastic containers of food nearby and other chefs preparing food in the background

By providing access to the Erudus nutritional and allergen database, the DateCodeGenie allows kitchen staff and administrators to look up and apply crucial information to food label designs. That’s an especially important feature now that Natasha’s Law requires more strict labelling standards.

In less than a minute, dining staff can use the DateCodeGenie to select a label design—complete with nutritional charts, student names, ingredients lists, allergens, prices and QR codes—and print out as many labels as they need.

Close-up image of a hand placing a custom food safety label with a bar code on a black and white box

When the menu changes daily and demand for labels is high, kitchen staff can’t wait for bespoke food labels to arrive in the mail. They need an immediate solution for labelling grab-and-go, delivery and pickup meals with the correct information. Again, that’s the DateCodeGenie.

Provide an extra layer of safety with SecureIt® tamper-evident labels

As they deliver meals to students, dining staff also need a way to ensure the safety of unattended delivery orders. By providing a protective seal over the top of delivery orders, SecureIt® tamper-evident labels help ensure students that their food is safe and ready to enjoy.

Two people wearing white aprons apply SecureIt tamper-evident food safety labels to white and brown paper bags

And if dining staff need a way to keep track of orders while providing an extra layer of security for dorm delivery or pickup orders, they can use SecureIt labels for the DateCodeGenie.

Like other DateCodeGenie labels, SecureIt labels can include nutritional information, ingredients, order numbers, student ID numbers, student names, QR codes, allergen warnings and other crucial information.

For more information on SecureIt labels and how they help protect delivery orders and grab-and-go items, head over to our SecureIt page.

And for other everyday solutions to help schools deliver safe, delicious meals this year, head over to our education resource page or contact your NCCO sales representative at

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