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Catering Operations in Schools

How are catering operations currently coping?

Rupert Lynch, client relationship manager and executive chef at allmanhall, the leading independent food procurement specialists in the education sector, takes a look at the impact of the current supply chain challenges on catering operations.

Since the start of the pandemic, catering operators have experienced an unprecedented period of disruption. The UK food industry is now facing its biggest challenge in decades and as a result, catering operations managers have been forced to completely rethink the way they plan and execute their menus.

The effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on the food service industry have been unparalleled. No one single aspect has been left unaffected, be it the surge in demand for product, the staffing issues, or unexpected challenges within business operations.

Catering departments are not immune to these issues and as a result, catering operators have had to adapt and overcome these challenges daily. Having consulted with catering manager clients, it is clear they are all experiencing some form of disruption and are coping with this via a number of methods.

Catering teams are resilient and adept at adapting to whatever the supply chain throws at them. The pandemic has forced changed. Sometimes this has been for the better but, often, caterers have found themselves under significant pressure due to factors outside of their control.

So, what have catering teams done to mitigate the lack of product and frequent substitutions?

  • Sought advice on substituted products. However this in itself generates a potential risk with regards to allergens.  With the introduction of “Natasha’s Law” from 1st October 2021 catering teams are now required to be even more vigilant than ever in their approach to allergens and intolerances, therefore making any product substitutions brings an element of risk
  • Reduced the menu offering across all services. Some sites have even reduced the breaktime offer to allow them more time to maintain normal lunchtime service. Flexibility regarding the food offering has to become a priority.
  • Outsourced some production to third party providers – notably sandwiches and wraps (allmanhall can support this should you wish to consider it)
  • Increased fridge and freezer capacity to enable operators to store more fresh and frozen products to compensate for any delays and reduce the reliance on fresh product and just-in-time supply.

These are just some of the measures operators have taken to ensure they are maintaining as near normal service as they can.

  • Supply chain challenges are likely to remain in place well into the New Year, with continued disruption and difficulties securing stock. The situation is so dynamic that operators will have to be ever more resourceful and ensure they and flexible in their approach to menus, amend and adapting wherever necessary. This could be as often as daily, if not weekly.
  • allmanhall are here to support and help during these challenging times. Now more than ever, an expert food procurement provider may indeed prove to be an essential service.

“We regard the allmanhall team as absolute experts in their field, delivering the best food at the best prices along with the best support. We find allmanhall proactive in managing price increases and even decreases, and extremely responsive when needed. Nothing is too much trouble. I and my team of chefs particularly appreciate that allmanhall ‘get’ school catering and also that they are truly independent; meaning that we are treated like an individual client and not beholden to the whims of a huge contract caterer behind the scenes. They are a truly essential service – not an overhead at all but a critical partner without whom we could not achieve the support or savings we see today.” – Chris Ingram, head of catering, ACS International Schools

The original version of this article was first published on Independent Education Today

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