University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign

Top tips to make your taste test a hit

Corn and bean salad in tasting cups

To make your taste test a hit, make sure you have plans for logistics, marketing, and evaluating your hard work!


  • Location, location, location! Where is the best place to set up your taste test? It might be easy to give out samples as students move through the line, but that can also slow things down. If you have space and someone to give out samples, consider setting up a table or cart somewhere else in the cafeteria. Another option is to use a mobile cart to bring samples to seated students.
  • Speaking of samples, how much should you give out? Three ounces of a beverage or soup will be a bigger hit than just one ounce. A quarter of a sandwich will give students a better sense of the food than just one bite.
  • Make sure to have enough samples for all students to try. If you have the labor capacity, you may be able to reduce waste by plating or pouring up samples in batches. Otherwise, get samples ready in advance to hand out.


  • Plan ahead by coordinating taste tests with other celebrations, like National School Lunch Week (October), Heart Health Month (February), School Breakfast Week (March), and so on. For more regular taste tests, feature fruit and vegetable promotions monthly.
  • On the day of the taste test, get students excited by promoting it on the morning announcements. You can announce the taste test ahead of time by displaying signage in the cafeteria.


  • Taste tests are helpful to expose students to new foods, but you can also use their feedback. Find out what exactly they did (or didn’t) like and make adjustments to recipes or the menu accordingly. There are several ways to get feedback from students. Choose the best method depending on grade level.
    • For younger students, picture and graphic scales (like smiley faces) work best. Older students can rank attributes from 1-5. Of course, talking to students of any age can yield honest feedback. Just be sure you have a method of remembering what everyone said!
  • Finally, if you have the budget, thank taste-testers with a small give-away such as a sticker, pencil, or eraser.

Ready to make your taste test happen? Check out USDA’s website for promotional items, stickers, ballots, and more!

Want more? Watch this video from our neighbors in Michigan for real-life taste testing tips from food service directors.