Supply disruption and labor shortage closes popular lunch line

A world without a la carte


Olivia Shaw

OHS a la carte closes its doors until May due to staffing and supply shortages.

Olivia Shaw, Writer

Owatonna High School is one of few schools in Minnesota that have been lucky enough to have an alternate lunch option with numerous popular snacks. At OHS, a la carte is one of the most popular ways that students get their lunch at school. This option allows students to pick out what they want, whether it be some chips, frozen yogurt, fruit, or even a Bubblr to drink. 

The week before spring break, the OHS food services announced that they had to intermittently close a la carte. Although students are upset with this closure, it gives the school time to stock up on the necessary food and make sure they have enough staff to run the shop. Senior Ashley Schlauderaff said, “It is a bummer that it is closed because it was the perfect place to grab a snack when hungry.” Students saw a la carte as an option to grab something for lunch or to add to their meal. 


OHS has been lucky enough to have a plethora of staff to help run this extra lunch option, but when COVID-19 struck, staffing and supplies have not been able to recover as quickly as people may have hoped. ISD 761’s Food Service Director Sarah Brooks said, “The reason we had our closure is because we are having significant staff shortages and this goes for most likely all food operations in the nation right now.” She went on to say that OHS has not been fully staffed in the kitchen all year. Currently, OHS is four people short, but the district shortage total is eight people. 

OHS is seeing the food shortage at a local level, but with the a la carte line closed, the lunchroom staff has been able to focus on meals that all students can enjoy for lunch and breakfast free of charge for all.  Making sure to keep high quality food running at OHS is a top priority as they are funded by the United States Department of Agriculture to feed students. Therefore, a la carte is not as big of a priority being it is a pay line and not a main line. Ms. Brooks said, “We want to make sure that all students have access to food versus those who may only have certain funds in their account, so focusing on that access point is our main priority.” 

We would like to thank students for their understanding and patience.”

— Ms. Dena Ress

As most areas in food service are having staffing shortages, the lunchroom staff is also having issues with keeping a steady food supply. Ms. Brooks said, “I am guessing that the students have also noticed our options this year have also been kind of decreasing, and they have continued to decrease as time has gone on.” Product availability has significantly been decreasing, making it extremely hard for the staff to keep up with supply in the a la carte option. As supply issues have been affecting the a la carte option, these supply changes have not made a noticeable impact on the main line. 

Looking forward

This lunch option is not closed for good, but is taking a temporary break. The OHS food staff is hoping to have a la carte open by the end of the school year, looking towards a reopening for sometime in May. In the meantime, they are going to try to bring out some items and place them in the main lines for students to have the opportunity to grab something extra. 

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As the staff approaches reopening a la carte,  menu items are being revamped. The staff is open and looking for student input on what they would like to see in a la carte. OHS food staff is willing to take these ideas into account while still staying “smart snack compliant.” Schlauderaff said, “Garden salsa Sun Chips are my favorite thing to get in a la carte.” Chips are one of the most popular smart snacks that the students get during lunch. Junior Lileigh Nguyen said, “My go to was an orange juice and a grape jelly Uncrustable.”  Not only were chips one of the popular items, drinks and sandwiches were popular as well.

Among popular snack items, a la carte also housed a microwave that students were free to utilize when they needed to. Senior Joey Dub said, “I liked using the microwave because the location was convenient.” The microwave has now been temporarily placed up near the wall next to the main lines on the right. 

The future 

In future years, a la carte will still be available, but may look different. Not only will a la carte still be available, Ms. Brooks shared that the lunch staff is looking at having a salad bar, grille area and a daily feature. OHS Nutrition Service lead Dena Ress said, “We would like to thank students for their understanding and patience.” 

As of now there is not a set date for a la carte to open back up, but the food service department hopes to have it back up and running sometime in May 2022.