Making an effort to create an inviting space for your meal service can draw people in and make them feel welcomed. It invites people to gather and connect with each other. It is a great way to expose lunch goers to programming opportunities, the library’s summer reading program, and to all the services that the library and community have to offer. When staff and volunteers share a commitment to making the lunch space welcoming, cheery, and engaging, it elevates the summer meal service.

With minimal cost and effort libraries can create lunch spaces that say “Welcome to the library. Welcome to lunch. We are happy you are here!” Below are some ways libraries can create inviting Lunch @ the Library spaces as well as reminding patrons how the program works:

First Impressions

  • Have friendly servers on hand and have a designated “greeter.”
  • Cover tables with paper and put out crayons.
  • Purchase brightly colored, easily washable table covers.
  • Have volunteers or lunch attendees create reusable table centerpieces. Some ideas — succulents in jars or cans, squash or gourds on the tables, cups of crayons, assorted standing books, recycled book sculptures.
  • Stand and stack quick reads – picture books, graphic novels and magazines – on the lunch tables or around the perimeter of the lunch space.
  • Decorate the lunch area according to the annual summer reading theme (enlist TAB/volunteers to take this on.)
  • Use a large roll of paper to cover the walls so that lunch goers can create a mural over the course of the summer.
  • Offer lunch goers opportunities to cover the lunch area walls with artwork or paper discs that include some favorite book titles.
  • Play music in the background of your meal service.
  • If your provider permits it, consider having a “share table” for unopened food or milk to help minimize food waste and enable a child to have a second helping
  • In addition to the juice and milk being served, use a large clear beverage dispenser and offer iced water with or without sliced fruit (and provide paper cups).
  • Offer food resources to adults when possible. Work with community groups, local food banks, and seek out other resources in order to provide meals or snacks (a granola bar or piece of fruit) to the caregivers. Create a document listing sources of free food for adults and have it available in the lunch area. Though not always an option, the meal time is inevitably enhanced when everyone can eat together.
  • Have a small vacuum available for quick clean up of the lunch area after the meal service has ended.

Creating Opportunities and Space for Interaction, Creativity and Learning

  • Include craft and art opportunities within the lunch space.
  • Put out building toys after the food is served so kids can stay and play.
  • Make a play-kitchen a part of the lunch area.
  • Introduce parents to mobile e-devices.
  • Hold weekly raffles for books or other types of giveaways during the lunch service.
  • Make the excitement of summer reading and summer reading signups a part of your meal program. Create a reading area, show a Bookflix, offer a librarian-lead read-aloud during your meal service, do mobile summer reading sign-ups in the lunch area.
  • Invite guest speakers to speak about early literacy & healthy living/nutrition.
  • Invite city and county services to stop by during the meal service (Fire Department, Department of Water & Power, Health Department, etc.)
  • Promote and publicize upcoming not-to-be-missed library programs via projection on the lunch area wall. Use clear acrylic stands on the lunch tables to display flyers for upcoming programming.
  • Think about planning intentional programming before, during, and after the meal service.

Find the Best Space for Lunch in Your Library

The best location for the meal service depends on each library. Some libraries offer the lunch in the community room, others host it outside, or even in the middle of the branch. The space that you choose should be easily accessible by foot, stroller, or wheelchair and ideally, will be part of a fluid visit to the library and easy to find. The amount and type of outreach can also influence participation rates and can be coordinated according to the space you have to work with. In the rare event that demand outpaces room capacity, you can work with your sponsor to determine other solutions, such as expanding the meal service period to allow for staggered service. The meal must be consumed on-site so it is important to choose a space that is conducive to that and that can be monitored by staff or volunteers.

“If anyone is concerned about space, we hosted this program in our physically smallest library branch of approx. 640 sq. ft. so if we can do it, anyone can. The crowd basically came in waves of about 8-10 at a time and regulated themselves.” – Imperial County Free Library

Gentle Reminders of the Rules

Agencies participating in the USDA Summer Food Service Program must adhere to the prescribed rules to preserve the integrity of the program as well as to protect the health and safety of the children eating the meals. Sometimes it can be challenging for library staff and volunteers to frequently remind families of the rules of the program, such as the need to consume meals onsite or educating caregivers that this program is designed to serve children and teens ages 18 and under only. Some libraries have found that putting a flyer with the basic rules that families need to know in a clear, acrylic “table-topper” on each table can help lessen the amount of time spent (or discomfort) reminding participants of the rules. We have a rules flyer template here for you to customize. PLEASE NOTE: You should always follow the rules provided by your meal provider. If you use this template,  check with your provider to make sure to the flyer reflects the rules they want to convey.