Improving school meal take-up isn’t about price. It’s about people wanting to eat the food.

In most of the current public discussions about school food, ‘price’ is being cited as the most important factor affecting school meal take-up. According to some of the most popular ideas being put forward at the moment, every student in every school would sign up to school dinners tomorrow if we made them free.

Let’s ignore the world of difference between primary and secondary school food for the time being and look at take-up rates when ‘free food for all’ schemes were trialled in Scotland and Hull.

In Scotland these hovered around 45%. In Hull the highest they got was 64%. Significant improvements, I’ll grant, but the figures show what a simplistic argument the price one is when taken just by itself.

Every single one of our 37 restaurants has more impressive figures to show, and they haven’t been achieved through price-cutting.

They’ve been achieved because increasing numbers of customers want to eat our food.

Of course price is a factor. If you read some of my other posts here you’ll see some of the things we are doing to absorb costs, counter the effects of food inflation and keep prices competitive. But there are also other things to consider.

I recently spoke at an awards night where the school motto is ‘achievement through active learning’. For me that means learning being ‘sucked in’ by the student, not ‘pushed in’ by the teacher. The student makes their learning happen because, well, they’re hungry for the knowledge.

That model of learning is a mirror of what Cucina is all about. In the olden days it was ‘eat up your veggies, they’re good for you’. Along the lines of ‘I know what’s good for you’.

That’s the moralistic stuff of yesteryear. Remember the comedy skit where a waiter walks up to a restaurant diner, smacks him across the back of the head and says: ‘Eat all of that up or you don’t get any dessert’? Ludicrous or what? And yet some people still think that kind of approach achieves results.

Today, stealthy eating offers a better way. We might create a dish that smells just as enticing as a double-cheese whopper with fries, but you can bet it will also be nourishing. (Although that’s almost certainly not the main reason the customer chooses it).

Speaking of choice, I am sure this is the other big factor in our success. Our menus reflect the ways customers like to eat. You know how it is, sometimes you may want to be a little adventurous and try a vegetable pad thai or smoked salmon on cream-cheese bagels. On other occasions you may be attracted to the comfortable familiarity of a lemonade battered fish with chips, mushy peas and a home-made ketchup.

Our young customers can explore a 3-week cycle menu offering 15: freshly-made soups, salad-bar choices, hot mains, vegetarian mains, pot-pasta choices, designer-pizzas, classic pizzas, hot puds and cold puds. And these menus also get reviewed on a regular basis.

If I’ve made you hungry with all this talk of food, I’m sorry. I think I’ve done the same to myself if that’s any consolation. And sorry again, you can’t come to one of our restaurants to try the dishes out. Never mind, you can always look at our case studies ( to get more of a taste of what we’re achieving!

Till next time,


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