Up to speed, from day one: the impact of a new Cucina restaurant opening

After a restful Christmas break, two new Cucina restaurant openings meant that our New Year started with a real bang. While this has been a very busy time for our teams, it has also been a truly wonderful and inspiring one.

Unlike every other school food company I have worked for over the course of my career, Cucina sets out to fulfil its promises to clients from day one of a contract’s opening. There’s no talk of how we will eventually get things up to speed in a matter of weeks or months. When our clients and customers come into the new school restaurant, they see their caterer’s senior team working alongside the existing kitchen team to deliver promises right from day one. At the end of the first week, the response from our new clients has been ‘you really have delivered all you said you would, and more’.

Last week, as I stood next to the Headteacher at one of our new partner schools, she remarked that her school seemed to have developed ‘Cucina mania’, and looking at the numbers of students queueing for lunch, I knew exactly what she meant. The huge influx of numbers into the dining area meant that they had to put on extra staff supervision. This is the ‘Cucina effect’ we see so often – with pretty near instant doubling and then tripling of the numbers of students in the dining area at lunch time.

We achieve these turnarounds so quickly because our food offering is of a completely different calibre than anything that the staff and students have experienced before. This truly is the difference between a canteen and a restaurant. Now, before school starts, customers are able to choose from a range of delicious, healthy breakfast items and where once they may have had five or six choices at lunch time, they are now presented with over 40 freshly-prepared choices, as well as snacks and ‘take home’ items after school.

But now spare a moment to think about those who are actually producing all of this food – the kitchen staff who, in the very recent past, had worked within their comfort zones to serve a limited range of relatively uninspiring, mostly pre-prepared dishes to a couple of hundred students. Now, just a few weeks later, these same teams are working with an experienced restaurant chef, who trains them to produce quality restaurant standard food for a thousand customers a day. As you can imagine, the term ‘steep learning curve’ is a bit of an understatement here!

The joy of all of this is to see the transformation that comes over people, and the pride they take in the food that they produce, alongside the new skills they have developed. It is wonderful for me to witness this phenomenon at first hand.

Managing Directors of contracting companies sometimes complain that their job makes them too office-bound and as a result they lose touch with too much of the operations side of the company. One of the best things about my job as Managing Director of Cucina is that I need never worry about this. At Cucina, we’re all foodies at heart, and that means staying in constant touch with the operational side of the business, and the most important asset of any company – the hard working people, upon whom our success will always depend.

I look forward to bringing you further updates in my next posts,

Best wishes,

Stuart

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