A picture paints a thousand words...

Having reviewed their catering service, increased their turnover and guaranteed financial return through improved quality, i asked a client how they felt; this is what they sent...made me chuckle.

Tesco closing butchery counters could be great news for local butchers.

At a time when customers are ever more aware of the provenance of the food they buy I was amazed to see that Tesco are shutting the butchery counters in a number of their stores to save money and improve profitability. This is against the back drop of other supermarkets such as Waitrose and Morrisons investing more in this area. 

 

Closing butchery sections can only result in the use of more packaging and reduction in the variety of meat cuts available to consumers. Yes, the discounters such as Lidl and Aldi only sell pre-packaged meats but consumers are shopping differently now often visiting a number of shops to buy the products they like. I wonder how many people really shop at these discount supermarkets for their main meat shop and actually buy this elsewhere?

 

Supermarket butchers are usually very knowledgeable and helpful and are a great way for customers who may feel a little intimidated by high street butchers of gaining more confidence in expanding the range of meats they buy.

We have seen a reduction in butchery skills of chefs in the catering industry with less focus on this at college. Profits are reduced as bi-products of butchering your own meat (trimmings etc) are lost as more and more products arrive on site pre-cut and portioned therefore more expensive...

 

Most importantly though, I believe this a real opportunity for local butchers to seize back some of the market. Come on local butchers everywhere!

Free meal for handing over your phone!

I often see toddlers and young children sat at the table in restaurants in front of their tablets or mobile phones and even more regularly adults on their mobiles throughout the meal.

Sadly, getting families to put down their tablets and phones and talk to each other can be hard, but one restaurant chain is trying to persuade them. In a trial scheme parents willing to hand over their devices to restaurant staff will get free children's meals.

Frankie & Benny's said figures showing children want parents to spend less time on their phones and more time talking to them, prompted the idea. About 10% have tried to hide a parent's handset to get attention, it said. Nearly twice that many said it seemed their parents preferred to be on their phones than to talk to their children.

Over a quarter of parents admitted they checked their phones during family mealtimes while 23% did so while their child was talking about their day. How sad!

I say this really is a great initiative and I hope that more and more restaurants promote a similar theme. Dining is the perfect time for families to talk and listen to each other and should be a social event. How often do we hear parents talk about how difficult it is to make quality time for their children, well we all have to eat so how easy can this be........

Teamwork, leadership, respect, trust and commitment...the perfect combination

Creating a great catering and hospitality services relies on all of the above coupled with an understanding of customer needs, consistent standards and continual innovation.

Helping clients bring select a caterer or bring their team together then seeing the positive impact this makes on quality and profitability makes everything we do at Select Catering Consultancy worthwhile.

Flexitarian - A silly name with a serious point.

I stumbled across a new diet term i had never heard before.. FLEXITARIAN!! yes, FLEXITARIAN. I have heard of Vegan, Fruitarian, Vegetairan, even Lacto-Ovo Vegetarianism but not this one. Apparently a FLEXITARIAN refers to a person who has a primarily vegetarian diet but occasionally eats meat and fish. They also try to eat less processed foods. I call it a healthy balanced diet!! What is this obsession with labelling everything? By labelling a way of eating I believe you end up alienating many people. I am going to launch a new diet called "healthybalancedietarian", do i need to add an "ism to the end though?" imagine the royalties from the cookbook....

But on a serious note, adopting a diet that relies less on meat and processed foods will have a positive impact not only on our personal well being but also the health of our planet through the reduction of CO2 emissions that can only help in the reduction of the very real and dangerous process of global warming.

Retaining the best employees or sticking your head in the sand.....

Does this sound familiar following the resignation of an employee once considered to be one of the best and then someone daring to raise the knock-on effect and external perceptions of staff turnover? A senior manager or MD of a company sticking their head in the sand and saying…“they were no good anyway” even though everybody in the room knows they were or “we don’t have a high turnover of people. Joe Bloggs has worked for me for 10 years…” when everyone around knows that just about all of the middle and senior management team changes virtually every year.

Whilst it is necessary and healthy to have some turnover of staff, retaining the best employees is critical to the long-term health any business. Any decent manager will readily agree that retaining your best employees assists with customer satisfaction, growth, loyalty of co-workers and reporting staff. 

Employee Retention Failing to retain a key employee is costly to the bottom line and creates organizational issues such as an insecure workforce.

Various estimates suggest that losing a middle manager costs an organization up to 100 percent of his salary. The loss of a senior executive is even more costly. It is also important to remember the issues that may be caused further down the line of command especially in contract catering where companies are continually striving to gain loyalty of staff.

Exit interviews do provide one answer because departing employees can provide you with valuable information you can use to retain the remaining staff. Take note because you'll never have a more significant source of data about the health of your organization.

So how are the best employees retained? The following lists some of the key factors that In my experience helps to attract and retain the best employees:

1. Make sure employees know what is expected from them. It is a widely recognised fact that constantly changing expectations creates unhealthy stress.

2. Provide quality management or supervision. More often and not, people leave a company because of their managers.

Frequent employee complaints point to these areas:

·        Lack of clarity about expectations

·        Having no regular salary review mechanism – an employee may not get a rise or bonus but at least they know it is reviewed

·        Only receiving negative feedback about performance

·        Their immediate boss or higher not being able to let “sleeping dogs lie” and dragging up negative outcomes that once dealt with should be left in the past

·        Failure to provide a structure within which the employee believes they can succeed

3. Encourage and allow employees to use their talents and skills. Most motivated employees wants to contribute to work areas outside of his or her specific job description. Take the time to learn your employees' skills, talents, and experience. You may be surprised!

4. Provide a platform for employees to speak their mind freely within the organization. You may not like what you hear or may disagree, but at least you are making your employees feel involved. Very often there is an "inner circle" of senior managers advising or more often than not agreeing with their boss to stay in favour; very unhealthy for a business so a different view could be a real game changer.

5. Do not make employees feel undervalued. Don’t ask their opinion and then get someone else in to see what they think of the employees view.

6. Be supportive not negative. When an employee is failing at work, ask both yourself and them why. If you provide the tools and training and they still fail then perhaps they are not in the right job or company.

7. Whatever the circumstances, never use an employee's job or income as a “stick” (unless you want them to leave). It makes them nervous and reach for their C.V’s.

8. Make staff members feel appreciated. Frequently saying thank you for a job well done goes a long way. In addition to obvious monetary rewards find out something personal to that person and present them with a gift that means something to them. That said, pay rises linked to accomplishments and achievement will probably help you retain staff more than any other action.  

 

No doubt everyone will have a view on the above but in an industry (catering) where it is becoming ever more difficult to recruit the best people, it may be worth removing the “rose coloured spectacles” and taking a long, hard, deep look into how we treat employees and what we can do better to motivate and retain the best; OR we could simply stick our heads in the sand.....

I have just spent a fantastic week with my brother and our families. I would say that that the highlight of our days has been our love of food, passion for cooking and then the time we have all spent at the table together.

It struck me today how important eating as a family is to social development of children and the strength it can bring to families..the laughter, the debating, the manners and social skills it develops. Our children have always eaten at the table, never in front of the TV and I was shocked after researching the subject that 34% of the UK's children don't eat at a table and a similar amount can't use cutlery!!

We have all heard the excuses of parents saying they are too busy to cook fresh food or sit at the table and to be honest in my opinion a ping and ding meal in front of the TV or alone in their room in front of a computer is just an easy option.

The social interaction of eating with family and friends is crucial to their development as they grow up and not to mention their love of food and what is worse is the trend at many schools for making their lunch breaks shorter so they can fit everything into the day or don't have to pay for lunchtime supervision.

Children end up queuing for a takeaway pot of food they have to eat standing up using their fingers. A roast dinner was being served at a school I visited last year and wasn't selling. To my disbelief the catering manager portioned up the meal and served it from pots and suddenly sales were rocketing.....certainly a different slant on a pot roast!!

Where is the social development and interaction on that. This trend is not the caterers fault who have to balance these time constraints with meeting legislative nutritional demands as well as meeting financial targets and it is getting tougher. We need to remember that the school dinner really is the only meal for some children and their only opportunity to eat and socialise with others.

There is some light at the end of the tunnel. I have now seen some more forward thinking schools offering a family style service to pupils with food being collected and served by pupils at the table. How refreshing, they still get through the school day, the caterer can focus on better quality of food and presentation, the students interact with each other and they will undoubtedly do better for having a proper meal inside them.

I for one hope this refreshing approach can buck the trend and as a catering consultant I will continue to do my best to encourage caterers and clients to think out of the box and drive new or maybe in the case of family dining, "proven" solutions. We need to focus on how children eat as well as what they eat and we need to do something now.

image from weighty matters website

Time to focus on how and not just what children eat!

Schools are under ever increasing pressure to spread their funding and decide how best to allocate their budget. Catering is often seen as a drain on resources and I often hear business managers and Head Teachers say that they believe that their caterer is making a fortune from the school meal service. Sadly for the caterer this is no longer the case and prices and profit are at an all time low. Not a great place to be as to meet low prices something will inevitably have to give resulting in a poor service to the school and pupils, disenfranchised parents and a caterer gaining a bad reputation.

 

At the end of last term I visited a primary school that was so short on it's funding that it had made three support assistants redundant and stopped serving hot school meals. The two areas are linked - large classes with not enough teachers plus hungry pupils not receiving a balanced diet doesn't make for great learning potential.

I was at a middle school in Dorset and the uptake on the USFM was only running at 30%. so why was this? The truth was that in this fairly middle class area the perception was that the food was poor quality and not what they wanted for their children so they were all bringing packed lunches invariably containing a range of processed, high fat foods; and was the food quality poor...? Well on the surface yes but when considering the amount the caterer had to spend they were actually doing a good job.

 

It is time for the government to have another look at school meals, perhaps loosening the restrictive legislation around menu content and for the caterers to stop the race to the bottom on price. Governments will have to re-think at this point. Let's get children in the habit of eating again and then we can focus on nutrition.

Dining at school is not just about nutrition either. In an age when many young people consider having a conversation "texting" or "messaging". The benefits of half an hour spent face-to-face with peers having real conversations should never be underestimated. How many times in my role as a Director did i ask an Operations Manager had they spoken with their client to be told "yes but they haven't responded to my email yet". That is not a conversation!!

I say bring back the old days where we all sat at a table with a teacher at the end and a jug of water to be shared....maybe I am just getting old!

image from weighty matters website

Thinking about school meals

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