Debbie Gill doesn't look like your stereotypical cafeteria lady -- she of the hairnet, support hose, thick glasses and gruff voice.
None of those words come to mind when meeting Mrs. Gill. Of course, maybe that's because Mrs. Gill is no longer a cafeteria lady. Mrs. Gill is the restaurant manager at Gator Galley, Davidsonville Elementary School's new "restaurant."
"I wanted to make school lunch a positive experience for the kids," she said. "I wanted them to know that they could expect a smile, polite service from us every day. I wanted them to expect good food, fresh food and, most of all, hot food."
Yesterday, students got all three as the restaurant held its grand opening. Students had the option of dining on a light chef salad, a hot dog in a warm bun, crispy chicken nuggets served with potatoes or, the piece de resistance, pizza.
Technically, the restaurant has been open since the beginning of the school year. But yesterday's ribbon-cutting ceremony made everything official.
Mrs. Gill said she attended a workshop in March on school meals marketing. Cafeteria employees were urged to start thinking of students as customers, and themselves as restaurant managers.
Taking the message to heart, Mrs. Gill said she closed the cafeteria on a Friday and opened a restaurant on a Monday.
Instead of offering one item for students to choose from, the restaurant began by offering two entrees plus a chef salad. A contest to name the restaurant was begun and new colorful menus were created with promotions, giveaways and nutritional information for parents.
The restaurant has been redesigned and redecorated. The school mascot, the Davidsonville Gator, adorns the walls.
Students have drawn self-portraits that hang over the serving line. Flowered centerpieces decorate the tables.
While students like the decorations, what really matters to them is how the food tastes, and how many times a week they can buy pizza.
At Gator Galley, students may have pizza every day of the week. And the best part is that it's good for you, school officials said -- low on fat, salt and sugar.
"I really like it," said 7-year-old Brett Reid Spencer.
"On Friday's is when I especially like to go to the restaurant. I like everything here. I like the different kinds of milk. And I really like the pizza."
Added 7-year-old Jessica Seen, "It's all delicious. It's much better than before."
The number of students eating lunch in the restaurant has increased 52 percent in one year. About 124 students were purchasing lunch on a daily basis in December 1991. By December 1992, the number had risen to 189.
Part of the reason for the increase is the taste, students said.
"The food's gotten better," said Jack Stieff, 10. "We didn't used to have as many samples. But now we get pizza everyday."
"And the food's gotten hotter," 10-year-old Nate Main added.
But Jamie Fowble, 10, gave the most succinct assessment in comparing the old cafeteria to the new restaurant.
"Their food used to be disgusting," Jamie said. "And now it's great."