1. Free up space
Things tend to go wrong when the catering provider or experts aren’t involved from the start. Adding a new kitchen from scratch means either converting a room that’s large enough (the cheapest option), building an extension or potentially adding a ‘kitchen pod’ that connects to the side of the school, but that isn’t cheap.
2. Is it big enough?
One of the most common issues is facilities not being large enough for the number of pupils that will be using it. Lunch times can now last 35 to 40 minutes – if you can’t stagger lunch times for different year groups, the space available might not let you feed all the children in the time available.
3. Remember the prep areas
A number of schools have gone from from bringing in frozen, preprepared portions to preparing food freshly on site – but if your kitchen isn’t sufficiently large or properly planned out, you may well find that your preparation area is too restrictive for staff to be able to reliably prepare certain meals or dishes.
4. Adopt a whole-school approach
It’s usually down to catering providers to appoint kitchen staff, but what tends to happen is that someone from SLT will sit in on the interview appoint a school’s supervisor or head chef – you’ll want someone who works well with the school, parents and pupils, and has a real customer focus.
5. Maintain kitchen ‘flow’
You need to have a ‘flow’ in your kitchen. When deliveries arrive, your storage areas for dry goods and refrigerated/frozen food needs to be the first thing they come across. You don’t want delivery staff having to make their way right through the kitchen before they’re able to put your deliveries away.
6. Co-ordinate your deliveries
If you’re having food delivered, arrange delivery times that won’t clash with when parents are dropping pupils off. Schools obviously need to coordinate arrival times and the best way for providers to access the school premises; the provider’s delivery staff will usually be DBS checked.
7. Do things by the book
If a school wants to do its own catering, appoint staff and prepare fresh produce on-site, it must inform the environmental health officer based at their borough or city council. Once registered, they will then start to receive regular hygiene inspections.
8. Are you ventilated?
Regulations now state that commercial or public gas equipment can’t be operated without ventilation being active at the same time. There are currently programmes under way across the country to replace older kitchen systems with ones that have gas cut-offs installed.
9. Cutting costs isn’t easy
When reducing costs, there’s two main areas you can focus on – food and labour. A contractor or LA will manage those and have a staffing ratio based on meal numbers. Schools doing things in-house must be flexible and have a good kitchen manager if they’re to stay out of trouble…
10. Make your menus exciting
Schools’ customers are their pupils. As such, menus tend to be quite similar, usually including roast chicken, fish fingers and home-made pizza. for example. Some schools go a bit further by offering different choices and cuisines, but one reliable way to keep things fresh and exciting is to do special theme days and events.
Tim Blowers is Chair of the Lead Association for Catering in Education (LACA) and head of the county catering service at Derbyshire County Council Children’s Services