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Best Customer Service Concept: Adult bars, Gwinnett County Schools

Branded program was launched last fall by Gwinnett County Schools to ensure adults’ food and beverage needs were being met.

\At the start of the current school year, teachers and staff of the Gwinnett County School District in Georgia got a pleasant surprise: specially dedicated, branded “adult bar” stations in district cafeterias that served an enhanced menu of grown-up fare not available to students. While Gwinnett had already offered foods designed for adults, this was an enhanced program rolled out with a new brand name: Cafe Gwinnett.

“We wanted to put little more of an emphasis and focus on our internal customers, our faculty and staff in the schools this school year because they are good customers too and good revenue for our program as well,” explains Karen Hallford, director of the school nutrition program at Gwinnett. “At the end of the last school year we were looking at our numbers and participation and saw that we weren’t feeding that many of our adults. So while all of our elementary schools and most middle schools already had a teacher or adult bar, we just decided to brand it.”

SpaWater_Adult_Bar.pngLeft, flavored spa water is another new addition. (Photos: Gwinnett County Public Schools)

The branding came with some menu changes, not the least being the substitution of branded Seattle’s Best coffee for the distributor brand being used previously.

“We also got rid of Styrofoam cups and got paper cups with a sleeve, and [ditched] powdered creamer for liquid in several flavors,” Hallford adds.

The menu also added adult-exclusive options like hummus, turkey burgers and desserts that could be prepared in school kitchens, such as a doughnut bread pudding.

An especially popular addition according to Hallford was salad dressings like blue cheese and Caesar that aren’t available on the regular student lunch line because of their fat and sodium contents.

“That got us some emails from teachers,” she laughs. “They were just thrilled!”

best_concepts_bug_v2.jpgJust a few small tweaks seemed to go a long way with our adults, Hallford remarks. Among the comments received were accolades like:

  • "The quality and variety of meals offered on the adult bar have been excellent this year. Thank you so much for taking good care of us!"
  • "Thank you so much for always having a stocked coffee bar and a fresh salad bar! Your staff is always smiling and friendly too!"
  • "The coffee bar makes my life better!"

“They are customers who are captive in the building—they can’t leave for lunch because there’s just not enough time,” Hallford explains, “so we wanted them to know that they can get a good lunch with us, a good cup of coffee, and we have seen a difference in our adult sales” as a result.

The Café Gwinnett initiative, including the new logo and marketing materials, was introduced to site managers over the summer, and expectations were outlined for keeping the stations well stocked and maintained. The Café Gwinnett food bars are located only in district elementary and middle schools. High schools have the coffee bar portion of the program only.

The advantages of Café Gwinnett don’t stop at a simple tweak of the previous menu, Hallford emphasizes. Branding also helps bring uniformity, she adds.

“We had a lot of inconsistency,” she explains. “At some schools, the teacher bar would be fabulous and at others it was lacking, and teachers who would transfer from school to school would notice that and comment on it, so we wanted consistency from school to school.”

Then there is also the effect on students.

“[The teachers and staff] are also role models for students,” Hallford says, “so we want them talking positively about our program and eating in our cafeterias because kids are watching them. So [Café Gwinnett] is a win-win in that too.”

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