We’re not about words or badges, we’re all about the food

When just about every school caterer seems to be saying the same things about their service and the provenance of their food (we cook our food fresh each day, we use fresh, locally sourced ingredients, we offer vast daily choices…etc), what are you to actually believe? How can you know what their service and their food is really like? There’s only one way – go and see for yourself.

Actions speak louder than words. When we applied for the Soil Association’s Food For Life Gold Catering Mark, for example, we knew it would be a harder challenge for us than for just about any other school caterer, for the simple reason that we offer our customers so many daily choices – around 50. This is why the new accreditation means so much to us. It is tangible proof of what we deliver and it pretty well sets us apart as a secondary school catering company. Similarly with our Vegetarian Society accreditation. We know how much thought and care goes into the development of our vegetarian dishes; this badge, which we have earned for a second year now, is one way backing up what we say.

Likewise, when we joined the Real Bread Campaign. It’s not just a badge-chasing exercise. Our chefs actually do bake fantastic bread each morning, so this year, for Real Bread Week, each of our restaurants is going to run an after-hours bread making course for students, teachers and parents. Why do we bother with things like this? It’s another way we can show how we are all about the food. That’s the most powerful thing we can do, show, and not just tell. This was brought home to me even more strongly during our recent ‘Back to the Floor’ day.

I spent this day in one of our restaurant kitchens, working Cucina chefs’ standard hours – from 6 am to 6pm. While we were doing that, the regular kitchen team were enjoying their reward for being Cucina’s ‘Team of the Year’ with a special day in London enjoying lunch and a West End show. Working alongside me were my fellow Directors and Managers and we experienced first hand what it was like to produce those 50 daily choices, along with breakfast and after-school service. It was really hard work, but incredibly rewarding because we could experience at first hand the value our company is delivering to our clients.

When you think about an exercise like this, it doesn’t take long until you begin to realise all the benefits. Because Cucina is all about the food, its Directors and Managers need to be in constant touch with life ‘on the floor’. New clients are almost always surprised to see the company’s top team at the opening of their restaurant, because they’ve never experienced this before. It’s an absolute joy for us to be there and witness their reaction when they see at first hand the difference between a school canteen and a school restaurant. And what is that difference? For me, it comes down to choice. The operator of a canteen says ‘we mostly choose what you eat’. The operator of a restaurant says ‘you choose what you eat’, and the more choices, the better. Which is why we allocate considerable resources to our development work, something I’ll have a lot more to say about very soon,

Until then, on behalf of all at Cucina, I wish you a happy and restful Easter break.

Sam

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