Insight from the experts part 3

With the world of school catering undergoing so many changes, maybe now is the time to bring in an outside caterer, says Sue Parfett

Your beloved daughter is to be married. The date is set, the church booked – but what to do about the catering? Of course you call on the caterers. You set about choosing the one that suits what everyone involved will be happy with, as well as what you want to say about your daughter. Would you take on the catering yourself? Probably not, as this is a specialist area, and, in any case, you have a lot of other things to think about when managing a wedding.

As a specialist in education catering, I would also say that outsourcing your catering provision should be the best decision you ever made (especially if it was to Brookwood!) But why is that? Surely keeping things in-house means you retain control over menu decisions, the budgets and who you employ. Think about the wedding. You have menu control, you probably meet the people you will be trusting your lifelong memory to and you may well go and see them in action. That should be the same for your school catering. Running things internally also means you have to be on top of all the latest compliance and legislation that comes with it too. Outsourcing should, in effect, take away all the pain – no more recruitment, management, health and safety, food safety, training needs – and aim to reduce your costs rather than increase them.

However, no two schools are the same, so caterer and school both need to ensure the school is getting what it wants at an agreed cost. Just as when a cherished child gets married, you are not giving away the control of your catering, you are gaining everyday management for employment issues, food scares or, more recently, implementing a structure to adhere to the changes in allergen legislation.

A really good caterer will give you ideas, and provide training and development for these to be introduced. Catering, by its nature, is labour intensive and requires significant investment of time to manage a course through many potential pitfalls. A caterer can foresee these through a lifetime of catering management. Outsourcing will offer you the high level of experience afforded by having access to a team of catering professionals whose priority is catering and who can keep the school developing in the right direction. When done well, with caterer and school having good lines of communication, this will result in getting more from the cost of catering, as well as a motivated catering team and the ability to engage both parents and pupils in a food service that they enjoy!

There are many schools who have firmly decided they want to manage their own catering and others which may consider the pros and cons from time to time. As with the wedding, the choice will be down to whether an organisation suits their style and their pocket.

So, in short, outsourcing enables you to focus on what is important. So, is it time that you got the caterers in? Of course, with the wedding, some decide to employ a wedding planner as they have the experience to help you chart the course of this important decision. Then we have catering consultants. So first you need to choose your consultant. More on this next month.

Sue Parfett is managing partner of The Brookwood Partnership W:

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