A digital remedy for ‘dark operations’ in the contract catering industry

By Kit Kyte, CEO at Checkit

The contract catering industry is under scrutiny like never before. While historically subject to significant rules and regulations, the advent of the pandemic has pushed cleanliness and organisations’ responsibilities towards the health of its customers, employees and other service users to the forefront.

For operators already trying to manage staff efficiency and service quality between multiple sites it is an extra layer of complexity. With business reputation built upon dedication to delivering an excellent experience every time, regardless of the venue, there is no margin for error.

The challenges are heightened by the hidden presence of ‘dark operations’ – the result of outdated methods of information-gathering and reporting. Paper checklists, siloed spreadsheets and clunky tech have multiplied across locations over the years. They lack consistency, conceal insight and don’t scale. This leaves both frontline teams and their managers somewhat ‘in the dark’ about best practice and performance indicators – and therefore limited in their ability to drive continuous improvement in the way work is done.

Dark operations can be defeated by connecting workforces and digitising the way information is gathered.

Connecting dispersed workforces

Part of the challenge of being a contract caterer is having multiple teams, in multiple locations, working for multiple clients at the same time. With one client wanting to work one way, and other preferring a different approach, getting information to and from teams can be challenging. Then there’s understanding what your staff are doing, and whether they are meeting the agreed standards.

That’s why it is time for contract caters to connect their workforces.

The proliferation of smart devices and the app explosion has meant that employers can distribute tasks directly to workers via mobile apps. Prompts, guides and task logging means high standards of safety, quality, hygiene, comfort and customer experience can be tracked in real-time, with deliverables measured against pre-agreed performance metrics. Whether cleaning, risk assessment, quality or service, information can be gathered and shared rapidly – no more waiting for paper documentation to be completed at the end of shifts and then sent back to head office. Problems can be identified and resolved faster and more effectively, maintaining relationships with both main clients and service users.

What’s more, data from multiple locations can be collated and presented in custom dashboards monitored by managers, providers and customers. In turn, these can be used to create digital reports demonstrating consistent adherence to standards and agreement, and also cutting down time spent gathering audit information.

The automation of contract catering

Connecting workforces is the first step towards shedding light on dark operations. Once they are regularly receiving accurate data, providers can not only demonstrate to customers how they are meeting targets, but they can also use that information to proactively address challenges and suggest service delivery improvements.

This gives leaders the ability to make informed decisions about processes, allocation of resources, efficiency and productivity, based on information they know is coming directly from the frontline.

Connection plus automation equals efficiency opportunities

Building a connected workforce with automated intelligence gathering helps contract caterers put in place the foundations to uncover value-adding opportunities, both within their own organisation and with customers.
For instance, Compass Group, a leading provider of contract catering services in the UK and Ireland, needed to safeguard its reputation from the damage caused by non-compliance, inconsistency and poor service. It replaced ineffective paper records with a cloud-based model, gaining real-time visibility over the status of food hygiene compliance across all sites.

Compliance processes that were previously recorded using paper reports are now managed through the cloud-based control centre. As soon as staff complete the daily compliance checks, the results are automatically time-stamped and transferred to the cloud for safe storage, where they can be instantly accessed by managers. If a task is missed, the management team are immediately alerted and can take steps to correct the issue. This provides unrivalled insight into current and historical performance of each site and has allowed Compass Group to optimise the efficiency of its staff and processes.

The company now has tighter control over its operation across all sites, with due diligence levels rising and insurance costs coming down. Digitising the daily reporting has improved both accuracy and efficiency, with staff spending less time on manual reporting and management benefiting from gaining greater visibility. Some core processes relating to quality and safety are now being reviewed and adjusted, based on the insights gained from the digital system.

Driving a digital revolution in contract catering

By improving oversight of staff and their activities across multiple locations, and automating the collection of trusted data, contract caterers can put themselves in a better position to continue to meet both heightened customer expectations and enhanced regulatory requirements.

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