Chicken and egg: How we get so many kids eating great food

By Cucina’s Director of Food, Sam Davies

As Director of Food for a school catering company, I often get asked how we manage to keep producing top restaurant quality food and remain profitable, with prices going up all the time. This is actually a very good question and it deserves a full answer, so here are some of my thoughts, which I hope you find interesting.

Remember the bad old days of school dinners, where kids all lined up and were doled out some awful looking gloop that had been steaming away in huge cauldrons? This kind of ‘soup kitchen’ approach to school meals wasn’t about much more than getting kids fed to keep them alive for another day.

Too bad if you didn’t like the food – that wasn’t relevant. You had to eat it, or you went hungry. You might even remember that awful scenario yourself. Luckily for kids today, all that has now gone. But has it completely disappeared?

OK, we’re all much more aware of the need to make school food a better experience for kids, and a healthier one. But if, as a caterer, you’re only driven by the best margin you can possibly make on every item of food you buy, you’ll find it impossible to  serve the kind of quality food that Jamie Oliver and others have been pushing for, for so long. So what’s this then, an impossible equation?

Absolutely not. Catering companies like ours make it work by going beyond this cost-driven approach. If you’re absolutely committed to the quality and the range of the food – and you’ve set standards that will never be compromised, you have put your energy into driving sales.

It’s all a bit of a ‘chicken and egg’ situation – you have to invest in your kitchens by putting in chefs and all the right equipment, then trust in your ability to drive the sales that makes it all worthwhile. Our Cucina model depends on us achieving school meal uptakes of at least 50% and up at each and every school we’re in.

We do that by getting kids excited about the food. Our counters always look great, the food smells inviting and we’re always changing things around so that we can keep the interest and enthusiasm. So can you see what we’re doing here? We’re treating our consumers as high-street customers, and selling to them just like a normal restaurant would. A bit of a far cry from those ‘soup kitchen’ lines, isn’t it?

If you have any thoughts on this, I’d love to hear them, so feel free to put them below, or contact us using the details on our site.
Meanwhile, have a lovely festive season, and don’t stint on the trimmings!

Best wishes,

Sam

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