Embracing a new normal in catering operations

Sponsored: Hayden Hibbert, director of client relations at allmanhall – food procurement experts specialising in independent education – looks at how embracing leaner, more agile working practices will help overcome challenges

For caterers within educational settings, it is clear that the current pandemic is challenging the long-established norm. The provision of food is one of the biggest costs in a school, but the pandemic has created an opportunity to innovate and trial new ideas in the way food is delivered whilst managing costs at this difficult time. So, how can independent schools embrace leaner, more agile working practices?

Review staff working practices and meal provision

One of the most critical planning considerations is staff numbers and their ability to adapt. The pandemic has forced meals to be prepared and served in new ways. Self-service is being replaced with fully plated meals – far more labour-intensive.

However, portion control is easier to manage with plated meals, so the upside is cost savings. Packed lunches could be an alternative and now is a good time to trial new ideas such as a click and collect solution where a student orders a meal online prior to collection.

Opportunities and innovations

Look at using environmentally friendly single-use packaging and ready-packed cutlery. Labour-saving technology in the kitchen can also reduce the pressure on staff. Catering-controls platforms will help you cost menus and help to eliminate waste. Create more seasonal menus, taking advantage of lower prices for foods in season.

Social distancing

With social distancing it is necessary to review the flow in a kitchen. Ease the pressure and help with safety by staggering the time of staff arrival and departure and create shift working and flexible rotas. For students, space out dining seats, split dining areas and stagger lunch times. For all, consider one-way travel.


Kitchens will already be designed with good hygiene in mind. Now is the time to update cleaning schedules, concentrating on key touchpoints, cleaning every two hours, and cleaning seats and tables after every sitting.

It could be a good idea to look at deep cleaning the whole kitchen area during holiday breaks.
Remove unnecessary furnishings, clean chefs’ uniforms more frequently and, of course, ensure adequate PPE.

Supply chain considerations

Elements of the supply chain have been under extreme pressure as a result of the pandemic. Many foodservice suppliers, still recovering from the initial lockdown, are now carrying out impact assessments. Continue to support and extend empathy to suppliers during this challenging trading time, understanding that some flexibility around delivery days and product availability may be required.

If you are using a procurement partner, like allmanhall, they will be in constant dialogue with these suppliers for you. You can also take simple steps like considering buying in cases to reduce touchpoints.

Focus on food cost savings

The catering function is one of the biggest costs for an educational establishment.

An independent benchmark of the current pricing from existing suppliers, compared like-for-like with others by an independent procurement supplier, can result in savings with very little effort, and is a good exercise in due diligence. Very quickly, it will become clear that a fully managed procurement solution is an essential service rather than an overhead. The savings will speak for themselves.

There are many catering considerations to address during Covid-19, but by introducing new practices, becoming more agile with more flexible working, and extending understanding and empathy to suppliers, perhaps using the expertise of a procurement provider, these challenging demands can be met.

W: allmanhall.co.uk

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