Spotlight Serving


Chicago's Academy for Global Citizenship serves some of the best school food in the city. Yet much of it goes uneaten.

Located on the southwest side of Chicago, Academy for Global Citizenship (AGC) boasts an on-site chicken coop, garden and greenhouse, and a full time chef who cooks with local organic ingredients. To improve their cafeteria experience, our interdisciplinary team of object design, graphic design, and architecture students from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) partnered with AGC to understand and address needs such as minimizing food waste. 

Our Process

First, we needed to understand how kids eat food at school. With help from Greater Good Studio, we used a number of research methods to understand different user experiences:

  • Headcam footage of students going through the cafeteria 
  • Family and stakeholder interviews
  • Kitchen staff shadowing and volunteering
  • Time-lapse camera footage of the entire cafeteria

Our team organized everything we learned from our observations and interviews and broke them up into different parts of the cafeteria engagement experience (5 E's: Entice, Enter, Engage, Exit, Extend). My team focused on the lunch line. 

We discovered several key insights from our observations:

Despite the food options, the pressure to move through the lunch line limits a child’s opportunity to choose.


Because kids see before they taste, being presented with food all at once leads to an overload of information.


Students benefit from individual attention of the Lunch Room Assistants (LRAs), but interactions are limited to the end of the lunch period.


These insights led to three key design opportunities:

  • How might we enhance the initial interaction kids have with their meal each day?
  • How might we help kids focus on each dish?
  • How might we give the LRAs more opportunity to interact with kids during the lunch period?

We explored several concepts around these design opportunities to test a mealtime experience that motivates kids to try new foods and minimize waste. Before returning to AGC, we tested our concepts by roleplaying, prototyping, and getting feedback from parents and teachers.

The Outcome

What if...
There was no lunch line?
The LRAs were out from behind the serving stand and interacting with the students?
Instead of receiving a whole tray of food at once, each student could focus on a single dish at a time?

Spotlight Serving System is a lunchroom experience where LRAs serve platters of individually portioned dishes one course at a time to students at their tables.


Here's how it works:

1. LRAs portion servings into individual bowls on serving trays.

3. Students are served trays at their tables, one course at a time. 

2. LRAs load serving trays onto a mobile cart.

4. LRAs have many more interaction points with students throughout the meal

My Role

The Spotlight Serving System is a collaboration between the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) and the Academy for Global Citizenship. Our team of graduate students (and one undergrad) took part in each phase of the design process together, including user research, strategy, ideation, prototyping, and testing. It was a true team effort.

SAIC Team Members

Hsi Chen
Janice Cho
David Evancho
Kristen Campbell Hansen
Tamara Novikova
Meghan Quinn
Eli Sidman

SAIC Professors

George Aye
Sarah Aye
Andres Hernandez
Tim Parsons

Spotlight Serving was designed by our team at SAIC and has been implemented in other schools by Greater Good Studio.