How Covid-19 has changed catering operations

Covid safe catering operation

CHANGE FOR THE BETTER AS WELL AS THE NECESSARY?

Whilst the Covid pandemic is still causing some disruption to catering operations across the UK, catering operators rose to the challenge and implemented several changes to their operations to ensure they produced exceptional food whilst maintaining a Covid safe working environment. Rupert Lynch, Client Relationship Manager and Executive Chef at allmahall looks at some key changes and applies his prior experience of front-line catering to explore the practicalities of the ‘new normal’…

Reviewing staff and operational processes

One of the more important planning considerations during the first reopening was maintaining a reliable workforce and ensuring food was prepared in a safe and secure environment. The pandemic forced the implementation of new ways of working and how meals are served. Self-service replaced served food and, in some sites, fully plated meals are now the ‘new normal’ which has placed added pressure on the kitchen workforce.

Another key consideration was addressing the risk of a complete shutdown due to one or more staff members testing positive. As a result of this, many kitchen teams subsequently formed ‘bubbles’ to reduce the risk of a cross contamination. In addition, catering operators subdivided kitchens into ‘numbered’ areas where only one member of staff would be permitted to enter at any one time. These measures, although somewhat draconian in nature, have greatly reduced the risk of cross contamination and allowed kitchen teams to maintain continuity of service, albeit at a reduced capacity.

Supply chain considerations

Supply chain management and forbearance is still an important area of consideration and, throughout the pandemic, there has been significant pressure owing to the disruption caused by the closure of the entire hospitality sector and organisations furloughing a large percentage of their workforce.

Communication with suppliers is key to ensure continuity of supply especially at the start of each term. Delivery schedules still do not reflect pre-pandemic levels, despite there being significant improvement – this is set to continue as an upwards curve, as seen since indoor hospitality opened on 17 May, creating increased demand, and even with the postponement of further easing of restrictions until 19 July.

Consideration still needs to be given to the availability of products. Brexit caused some supply chain disruption, particularly on goods entering the UK from the EU and further afield. The wider pandemic has caused some disruption to goods manufactured in Asia and the result is increased lead times on a wide range of both electrical and disposable goods. Ensure orders are placed in a timely manner to avoid any issues.

Hygiene

Kitchens are designed with good hygiene in mind and the pandemic forced an even more rigorous cleaning regime. Areas to keep a focus on now are key touch points, cleaning every two hours and deep cleaning the whole kitchen area on a more frequent basis.

Opportunities and the future

‘Grab and go’ became the ‘new normal’ as schools – and indeed a range of foodservice operators – adapted to different service styles. Environmentally friendly, single-use packaging was and still is widely used especially at key touch point areas – notably the salad bar where prepacked salad items had to replace self-serve.

A noticeable change across menus saw catering operators implement a reduction in the choice of main course items. Catering teams that had previously offered the choice of three or four dishes (including a vegetarian) reduced this down to one meat and one vegetarian. This supported production methods whilst kitchen teams were running at a reduced capacity. Whether this will continue into the future remains to be seen, however several schools in particular have already indicated to allmanhall that they will adjust the number of items available on the menu on a permanent basis.

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