A study of the National School Lunch and Breakfast programs by the USDA found that the location of a school district has a marked impact on school foodservice costs. The study, School Foodservice Costs: Location Matters (Economic Research Report Number 117 (download PDF file here) made the following findings, according to the abstract:
• After accounting for nongeographic characteristics of School Foodservice Authorities (SFAs), we found that average foodservice costs per reimbursable meal (including all breakfasts and lunches) in 21 locations (rural, urban, and suburban areas across 7 U.S. regions) range from 21 percent below the national average for the rural Southwest to 19 percent above in the suburban Midwest. The Southwest and Southeast regions had average costs per meal below the national average, and urban locations had lower average costs per meal than their rural and suburban counterparts.
• The main drivers of differences in foodservice cost varied by location. Wage and benefit rates were the largest contributors in five locations. SFA characteristics—particularly the total number of reimbursable meals served, this study’s measure of meal value, and the presence of a la carte foods—were the most important factors behind cost differences in five locations. In the remaining 11 locations, per meal cost variation was largely due to differences in total food expenditure per meal, which include differences in food item prices and food items served.
• Per meal costs dropped when the number of meals served rose and when the SFA served more lower-value meals. Per meal costs rose when the SFA served more higher-value meals and had more than 10 cents per meal in a la carte food sales.