For a successful theme day, focus on the three ‘E’s

Educate, engage and enhance: theme days can deliver a range of added-value benefits, explains Vernon Cox

When done well, theme days can not only add interest to the menu, but also engage and educate students, inspire and motivate the catering team itself and enhance the school’s reputation.

Beyond curry day or fish ‘n’ chip Fridays, there are endless opportunities for theme days that can create excitement among students and staff. With the world growing smaller every day through travel and international students bringing their own diverse customs to schools, catering teams have the perfect opportunity to embrace and celebrate different cultures and cuisines and in the process educate students about flavours, foods and traditions from around the globe. You want the food to be authentic, so tapping into the knowledge of the catering team or—even better—the staff and students themselves can really help.

Equally, catering teams should consider celebrating the rich food heritage of the UK. Our produce has a great reputation globally, the quality is exceptional and the diversity is greater than many people realise. Tapping into your local suppliers to feature seasonal produce throughout the year, for example celebrating Bramley Apple Week or National Potato Day, educates students about the produce itself and also highlights important sustainability issues, like seasonal eating, food miles, and supporting local producers.

Several Chinese students at a girls’ boarding school helped design and prepare the menu for a Chinese New Year feast. 

Of course, important holidays and any big events happening during the year should be considered; for example, The Queen’s 90th Birthday, the Olympics and Paralympics, and the UEFA EURO football competition are all happening in 2016. Most importantly, catering teams should partner with the school to understand what the students will be studying and think about what theme days can be created that will reflect and reinforce their classroom learning.

Planning and preparation are key to a successful theme day and catering teams should establish an annual theme day calendar at the start of every academic year to ensure they are taking advantage of every opportunity to add interest to their menus and align with the school curriculum. This also allows time to consider the type of theme day, as well as during which service it should be run—breakfast, lunch, dinner or across the whole day. Theme days can be small events, such as a lunch that highlights World Book Day; medium-sized events like a multi-service or multi-day menu dedicated to a particular cuisine; or large, whole school events where the catering team partners with others throughout the school to create a special occasion.

An elaborate Mad Hatter’s tea party to accompany the school’s study of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, created by the catering team working with students, teachers, the drama and art departments and school marketing staff.

Theme days also keep your catering team motivated by giving them a chance to do something different from their day-to-day duties—getting their creative juices flowing and allowing them to show off their craft skills and culinary knowledge. With an annual calendar established, you can give team members ownership of different events, tasking them with coming up with not only the menu, but how to bring the theme to life and how to market and promote it, which is vital to create anticipation and encourage the maximum number of students and teachers to enjoy the special menu. Greater involvement in the planning and execution will lead to more enthusiasm and greater engagement with the students during the event.

Finally, a successful theme day can enhance a school’s reputation. There’s nothing better than students raving to their parents about the food, and executed well, theme days can help make this happen. Creating excitement, offering additional educational opportunities and increasing engagement with the students will inevitably be fed back to parents, and this in turn will be fed back to the school and to other parents and potential parents—ultimately boosting the school’s status and contributing to its ongoing success.

Vernon Cox is Director of Business Development at Harrison Catering Services.


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