As an organisation that helps schools with design and build projects across the UK, the team at ABDA has been listening with interest to all the advice and ideas being shared about how schools can best re-open. But they decided they also wanted to hear the views of the children to better understand the changes they may experience at lunchtime.
The company used Digital Blonde, an agency with many years of education marketing experience, to run a series of Zoom focus groups with children from different areas of the UK.
They explored everything from food choices to the dining environment to the overall experience and one of the key findings was that all children wanted a hot meal at lunchtime, which is good news for school meal providers.
ABDA director Claire Smith said: “Understanding what consumers think, feel and believe is so important for all of us moving forward.
“Whilst we must take into account the design practicalities around a school lunchtime experience, listening to the voices of the pupils using the venue is so important to us.
“They all had nuggets of information that we absolutely will consider when exploring future designs and we’ll continue this journey of running regular focus groups with children.
“It’s so important pupils feel involved in the decision-making processes as ultimately they will be the ones using the facilities we create for schools.
“Over the last few weeks and months, we’ve been helping our clients to prepare for reopening and will be sharing all feedback from these focus groups with them, both now and in the future.”
The focus groups showed that while some children had understood school life would be different, others hadn’t considered the changes that would need to be made. One child mentioned she would be eating her lunch in the classroom as there wasn’t enough space to spread out in the dining hall, while another said they would be spread out on small tables in the dining hall.
Asked how they felt about these possibilities, one did not want to be in the same room all day, while a nine-year-old girl was particularly concerned about having to rush her lunch if she was in the classroom or there were staggered lunches in the hall.
Other comments reflected the children’s desire to see colour in the dining hall, on the tables and with children’s artwork on display on walls.
When asked about the restaurants they like to eat out at with families, Pizza Express came out because they liked to be able to see the chefs cooking service was quick. Pizza Hut was also mentioned for the salad bar, because children could help themselves and eat as much as they wanted.
Nando’s was also considered good by the children as they like the way you can customise the dish by selecting sauces and spices.
Asked what features from their favourite restaurants they would like to see in a school dining hall, responses included a warm welcome and being taken to your table by waiter service; an open kitchen so they can see the school chefs, more choice for the dish to be created how you want it, comfy seats instead of benches and outside dining areas.
Technology also featured in a few responses, with the mention of Deliveroo-style ordering and robots bringing your food to your table.