Reviewing staff working practices and meal provision
The pandemic has forced the implementation of new ways meals are prepared and served. Self-service is being replaced with more labour-intensive, fully plated meals, putting strain on staff already under pressure (however, portion control is easier to manage, so the upside is cost savings).
Packed lunches are an alternative and now is a good time to trial new ideas such as a sandwich solution or click and collect, where meals are ordered online in advance.
Supply chain considerations
Elements of the supply chain have been under extreme pressure as a result of the pandemic and the challenges resulting from multiple lockdowns. Communication with suppliers is critical. Changes to delivery days and frequency may be unavoidable.
As inventories are not normally stockpiled, it is also important to identify and communicate anticipated volume changes, including menu changes and new product lines required. Inventory-management systems use historic purchase data to help forecast future demand, so it is easy to see how significant changes may lead to impaired service performance if not communicated.
Check if suppliers are reputable, with Covid-compliant practices in place, and consider consolidation. You may consider buying in cases, reducing touch points. allmanhall is in regular dialogue with suppliers – consider a procurement partner to manage your supply chain.
Review the flow of your kitchen/s. You may stagger staff arrivals and departures. Shift working and a flexible rota system can reduce chances of contact. If limited space, introduce one-way travel.
Arguably, catering environments such as boarding schools with ‘house feeding’ may find it easier to operate distanced ‘pods’, whereas central dining facilities may implement extended service times. Others have split dining of covers and complex logistical planning to operate this.
Now is a time to update cleaning schedules, concentrating on key touch points, cleaning every two hours, and cleaning seats and tables after every sitting. Deep cleaning the whole kitchen area during any breaks in service – such as holidays – may be a good idea. Remove all unnecessaries, clean uniforms more frequently and, of course, ensure adequate supplies of PPE.
Advice and communications
Liaise with administrators over operational changes and communicate changes to the foodservice offering and the method of delivery. Use advice resources and information online, ie from the government and organisations such as the FSA.
Opportunity to trial new ideas
From environmentally friendly single-use packaging and ready-packed cutlery to labour-saving technology reducing the pressure on staff, to innovating your menus with at least weekly menu planning to take advantage of lower prices for foods in season. Consider new ideas!
Focus on food cost savings
Implementing a software support platform – and embracing the resulting efficiencies – can lead to significant cost savings. Review team output and bring back into the kitchen those moved into administration roles.
High-spend categories such as meat can be reduced or substituted, and vegetarian dishes offered as an alternative. Review the need for luxury items and use own brand if appropriate. One advantage of operating a restricted menu is that food costs and wastage are more easily controlled.
In summary, there are many considerations for caterers, but the following will help:
● Introducing new approaches to the food service offering
● Becoming more agile with more flexible and leaner working practices
● Extending understanding and empathy to suppliers
● Getting orders in with plenty of notice!
Strong communication, planning and embracing leaner, more agile working practices will help overcome the challenges faced in our new normal. The ability to adapt proactively will help school caterers to cope, if not thrive.