Insight from the experts part 8

With an increasing number of coffee shops in the UK, Sue Parfett looks at how they could be replicated in a school environment

For the caterer in a senior school a local Greggs used to be the stopping point for pupils allowed out. Now there are ‘new kids on the block’. Did you know there are 2,563 Costas and Starbucks’s in the UK? That’s approximately one shop of the two largest brands per 25,000 people. And that’s without including the other chains and independent artisan outlets which seem to be popping up all over the place. Long story short: in the UK, we like coffee shops. So are there any opportunities that their popularity can bring to school life?

The appeal of this global trend is obvious. Coffee shops now offer an eclectic range: coffee, tea, iced drinks, soft drinks, sandwiches, paninis, salads, muffins, cupcakes … The list goes on. They offer what anybody could realistically hope for in their morning caffeine dash, lunch break, five-minute breather from work or their social catch-up on a Sunday morning. Their atmosphere has captured a position in the market that covers many needs; on your own or with friends, almost everyone of any age finds them attractive.

The appeal and ease of access of this service can be an opportunity for schools. If a school is only a five-minute walk from a high street, this can mean older pupils are tempted away from the school lunch service to their local coffee shop. But we can offer something far more interesting: the same sort of offer but just for their age group.

This is why several coffee shops in schools have been so successfully received when opening up similarly styled venues. As a result we are bringing the high street to pupils, offering a wider choice as well as a different place to sit and relax in breaks, free periods or before or after school. As mentioned last month, it is important to keep up with high-street trends. As such, the range of drinks and food needs to compete with what is available locally. And by doing so, it offers pupils the alternative of a lighter meal in a more relaxed environment, which can be useful in the stressful build-up to exams or an important sports fixture.

So far I have only mentioned pupils. The ability to open to the wider school community depends on the objective of opening it in the first place. We have one site that is open to the entire school community including parents. The headmaster recently said that it had changed the atmosphere of the school. This coffee shop is self-funding. To achieve this we have a large potential customer base (footfall), the school is remote and there is no limit to access. It is open from 7.30am to 6.45pm and we have found the customer base changes during the day. Generally, however, these facilities are in sixth-form centres, limited to older pupils but open throughout the school day. These can offer a great facility with a quiet place to relax, socialise or study whenever they have free time. It also serves as a privilege of seniority in the student community. But they are likely to require funding due to the low footfall.

However, they often offer several more pragmatic advantages for our clients: they relieve the congestion which so often slows up lunch and dinner services by allowing the (hopefully!) more responsible older students to feed themselves in their own time. As sixth-form colleges increasingly vie for their share of the market, having one of these attractions can also be a crucial deciding factor in a pupil’s choice of school.

I am certain now is the time to capitalise on this trend in schools. They offer a way of going about catering that matches the current way we eat. Catering surveys are full of data about the younger generation ‘grazing’ and ‘eating on the go’. Many of our pupils are young adults and there are few better ways to reflect this than the services we offer.

Sue Parfett, Brookwood Partnership:


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