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Catering considerations when preparing for the reopening of schools

With the reopening of schools likely to happen in March, Hayden Hibbert, Director of Client Relations at allmanhall, the independently owned food procurement expert, suggests that now is a good time for schools to re-assess if they are COVID compliant, and if any operational changes would help ease the pressure catering teams are likely to face.

The prime minister has set a target date of 8 March for the reopening of schools in England. Currently only vulnerable children and children of key workers are allowed to attend schools for face-to-face learning, and those schools have to provide meal options for all those pupils.

Many school catering teams will already have a good infrastructure in place to enable them to meet the demands of providing an environment that is safe and COVID compliant, but as more children start returning to school, Hayden, who was previously Head of Catering at an independent school group, advices that now would be a good time to revisit and refresh risk assessments, and operational practices. There is also a requirement for employers to complete and communicate a COVID-19 risk assessment, a key part of the Government’s ‘Working safely during coronavirus (COVID-19)’ guidance, which remains unchanged.

Review staff working practices and meal provision

One of the most critical planning considerations is staff numbers and their ability to cope with a change in procedures. The pandemic has forced the implementation of new ways meals are prepared and served. Self-service is being replaced with fully plated meals, which being far more labour intensive, can put strain on staff already under huge pressures. 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 and collects from a designated station.

There are key questions to ask. If catering staff are absent due to sickness, are the remaining staff able to cope with the volume of meals required? Have you undergone a cost analysis of buying in prepared meals versus cooking in house and looked at batch cooking? Easy to cook dishes require less labour. And with many catered events no longer required, (for example match teas) this too will help ease the burden on staffing.

Social Distancing

With the 2-meter distancing rule in place 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 a flexible rota system. If limited space, introduce one-way travel, and make sure there is enough PPE. For students, space out dining seats and split dining areas and stagger lunch times.

Hygiene

Kitchens will already be designed with good hygiene in mind. Now is an opportunity to update cleaning schedules, such as introducing more regular cleaning, concentrating on key touch points like. It could be a good idea to look at deep cleaning the whole kitchen area during holiday breaks.

Remove unnecessary furnishings and other items from eating and cooking areas which can harbor germs and ensure staff uniforms are cleaned more frequently.

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, appraising their resource requirements and will need to control costs and optimise distribution. With the possibility of a disruption in supplies of some products, it is important to communicate with suppliers regularly. Give them early indications of volume changes as menus change and be flexible on delivery days. 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 and will offer advice and communicate any adjustments, to support you. Something else a procurement partner can help with is checking if suppliers have COVID compliant practices in place. Even if they do, you can take simple steps like considering buying in cases, to reduce touch points. 

Advice and communications

Liaise with school administrators over any planned operational changes and communicate the changes to the delivery of meals to both staff and parents to manage their expectations. There is an abundant source of information online, from the Government and organisations such as the FSA. Work collaboratively with your own catering team, and encourage the sharing of ideas, and consult industry experts.

Opportunity to trial new ideas

The catering function is one of the biggest costs for an educational establishment, so finding ways to reduce these costs at a time when there is huge pressure on schools with staff possibly off sick, now is a good time for trialing new ideas. 

Look at using environmentally friendly single-use packaging and ready packed cutlery, and labour saving technology in the kitchen.

A procurement provider will be able to give advice about stock-taking devices and other innovations available. They can help implement a software support platform which can lead to significant cost savings. 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.

Create more seasonal menus, with weekly or even daily menu planning, taking advantage of lower prices for foods in season.

Catering-controls platforms will help you cost menus and help to eliminate waste, as well as bringing other technological benefits.

Review the output of chefs and consider bringing back into the kitchen those that may have been 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 rather than branded goods.

There are many catering considerations to address during a pandemic, but by reassessing what needs to be done now, and introducing new practices and procedures, these challenging demands can be met.

 

Established in 2006, allmanhall is an independent, family owned and managed business providing expert food procurement and supply chain management, combined with hands-on catering and nutrition advice. Working in a partnership with its clients, allmanhall’s purpose is to deliver the best food, the best cost savings, and the best support. 

As procurement experts, allmanhall provides full management of the foodservice and catering-related supply chain. Clients enjoy essential food cost savings as a result of allmanhall’s supplier negotiations. In addition to procurement support, allmanhall provides exceptional foodservice consultancy, including nutrition and dietetics support, headed up by allmanhall’s Registered Dietitian.

Working across a range of sectors, allmanhall is particularly well established in the independent education and care sectors, as well as working with a number of contract caterers and other catering-related businesses. allmanhall employs thirty-five people and manages over two hundred suppliers, working with clients across England and Wales. Utilising the latest industry-leading technology, procurement expertise and a focus on relationships, both with clients and suppliers, allmanhall has positioned itself as a market leader in the foodservice industry.

allmanhall’s Procurement Director is on the University of Warwick advisory committee to the Government, regarding food supply.

Contact details: https://allmanhall.co.uk/

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