There are a lot of things about school leadership you can never really prepare for. The seagulls that torment small children in the playground and the battle armour needed for those infamous conker games, for instance.
I’m going to add managing a large catering operation to this list, and in honour of National School Meals Week 2016, I’m going to put it somewhere near the top.
Getting your head around complicated catering model costs is no mean feat. Yet every day schools across the country are serving up meals to hundreds of thousands of children. The cost of doing so can really add-up and when budgets are tight, every little helps. Are you getting the best value for money in your school catering? Here are four ways to start saving cash today.
1. Take advantage of seasonal and fresh produce
It’s tempting to think that buying produce in huge, tinned quantities leads to savings, but this isn’t always the case. Fruits and vegetables are cheapest when they are in season, and buying fresh produce from local suppliers can lead to cheaper prices than buying in bulk. Serving-up seasonal produce can also enhance your curriculum: growing vegetables closer to home and foregoing air-freighting can support lessons in sustainability, and more imaginative catering can help children grasp different cultures more easily.
2. Invest in equipment and staff
Spending money to save money? It might sound counter-intuitive, but investing in state-of-the art kitchen equipment and highly-qualified staff can actually reduce your overall catering bills. Up-to-date kitchen technologies can save on food preparation time, meaning you might be able to save on staff costs.
Better equipment also means you might need less of it. For instance, professional combination ovens can cook food more quickly than the ovens in most school kitchens. Some models have multiple chambers so your school chefs can roast and steam different foods simultaneously.
Likewise, qualified staff who can work more quickly and efficiently can accomplish more in a shorter period of time. This means the school needs fewer overall staff. Trained chefs are much less expensive than you might think, and they are used to designing menu options based around produce that is fresh and available.
3. Reduce your waste
Waste is one of the biggest things driving high school catering costs. Unlike when cooking at home, schools can’t refrigerate and reheat food once it has been cooked. Instead, schools end up throwing away any uneaten cooked food.
Marcus Orlovsky, a Tedx host on education and real estate, believes that one way to address this problem is by taking a restaurant-inspired approach to catering. Rather than cooking large batches of multiple meals during the day, schools that have invested in equipment and staff can use the shorter cooking times to their advantage by cooking smaller batches of food, and refilling those items that are proving popular.
This way, food is only taken out of the refrigerator when it is needed, reducing the likelihood that a lot of cooked food will be thrown away and giving schools the opportunity to put those ingredients to good use another day.
4. Improve the quality of your menu
Using fresh, seasonal produce doesn’t just have an impact on your school’s food bills. It can also help reduce some of the incidental costs of catering. If staff want to eat what’s on your menu, might they be more willing to take on lunchtime duties in return for a free lunch? This might help you to save money on paying additional staff to supervise lunch breaks.
And a couple of ways to make a bit more cash …
1. Extend your kitchen’s opening hours
Most schools spend a small fortune employing staff to prepare food and run the kitchen, but only really take advantage of these resources during the lunch hour.
Have you considered extending the kitchen’s opening hours? Especially for older pupils (like those in sixth form), opening the kitchen for longer during the day could encourage pupils to pop in for a healthier snack than those they would get in the school tuck shop or from the chip shop around the corner. It might earn your school some extra money as well.
Likewise, making coffee or tea and available when parents pick up or drop of their children could give the school the opportunity to generate a handy income stream. Parents not allowed inside the school? Set up a stall outside! You could even serve dinner for pupils staying for after-school clubs and their parents!
2. Take advantage of your kitchen facilities
Just like with other school facilities, there’s no reason a school’s kitchen has to close just because the pupils have gone home.
If you have a large dining hall and well-equipped kitchen, consider renting out your kitchen facilities.
Do you have talented junior or trainee chefs in your town, desperate to have their own restaurants but lacking the funds or track record to even begin? Why not put your kit, possibly worth tens of thousands of pounds, to excellent use out-of-hours and give this new generation of chefs a chance? This way, you can demonstrate your school’s commitment to lifelong learning.
Your school could be the location of the next amazing pop-up restaurant.