Zupa recently launched the findings from our latest industry study, commissioning an independent company to survey 250 operations managers, head chefs and general managers across the contract catering sector.
We unveiled our insight in a live webinar that I co-hosted with Zupa’s own Neil Shayle. Neil's our commercial director and has worked at Zupa for over fourteen years. He's also an ex-chef who's very passionate and knowledgeable about this sector. Together we discussed the key headlines and themes, from the concerns and challenges through to the role of technology. For this blog, I focus on one of the report's recurrent themes – the lack of innovation and chef creativity.
Innovation is a critical competitive advantage for all businesses. In contract catering, however, the general feeling – and the stats from the survey support this - is that people across the sector need to do more with less time and resource. The hospitality industry as a whole is grappling with high vacancy rates, employee attrition and poor morale and, as such, productivity and available bandwidth have become challenging operational hurdles that result in many business functions being side-lined.
Time is also taken up with lower value administrative tasks and manual processes. And, with 99% of catering professionals in our survey citing that outdated and manual process make them inefficient, the opportunity costs due to this time sink must be coming at a hefty price for businesses today.
Neil gets very animated on this topic: “When it comes to chef creativity, the hard fact is they are not getting the chance to do what they do best, to create, cook and innovate”. Neil’s point is supported by the survey feedback, where 65% of catering professionals say, given more time, they would inject more innovation into the business. “Whilst this highlights the passion from the sector to innovate,” he adds “the reality is that professionals are unable to spend all their time doing what they do best. And this will have a downstream impact on business performance and profitability.”
“These people are all highly skilled culinary professionals,” Neil continues “and they all have one thing in common, the desire to produce great tasting food for their customers. As professional chefs and caterers, their passion needs to be nurtured and they should be allowed to create and express themselves through their cooking to prevent that staleness or menu fatigue from settling in”.
Whilst organisations are unable to ensure there’s time and resource available for this level of innovation through poor process, our study shows other areas where process is holding businesses back. In terms of wastage and sustainability, 40% of professionals say this is being side-lined. Supplier and pricing control is also a huge problem right now. Neil points out that this is something we are also seeing anecdotally on the ground: “We’ve seen examples of this with own clients’ shopping baskets over the last 6 weeks or so, which have increased massively - some by 20%, and in other cases even more. It is evident to see that cost of living and rising food inflation is having a major impact on client costs and having the right systems in place is more important than ever to ensure greater real-time visibility and control. Businesses need to know what things are costing and what has been ordered. Other streamlining measures like integration, so data is joined up and negates the need to be re-keyed, is also vital.”
So, can technology reduce some of these challenges and, if so, why aren’t we seeing tech as the silver bullet it should be?
The survey points to some of the main reasons why this is likely the case; it seems many contract caterers are lacking a robust IT strategy with over half agreeing that a lack of joined up thinking in tech is resulting in outdated manual intervention. More than half of respondents also believe that there are too many systems for each process for them to cohesively work together. Right now, none of these issues on their own or in their entirety may feel like critical business aspects to get right, but in turbulent times they can lead to brittle process and cause daily headaches and challenges that risk eroding business resilience.
What can we do to inject that innovation and confidence back into the business?
People today are worrying about the time and complexity to implement tech solutions, sometimes struggling to see value (44% agree that ROI is too vague). However, the findings also show clearly that companies want tech that is easy to use, easy to implement and fits the culture of their business.
There is a hunger for innovation and the onus is on us as technology solution providers to do a better job educating and instilling greater confidence in contract catering professionals to help them achieve this. The fact is, digitisation is here to stay and, by investing in the right technology, companies can free up time and ensure their teams focus on the aspects of their job they love and have trained for – the things that drive significantly greater value for the business.
As Neil reminds us “people are leaving this sector en masse, and firms need to be doing all they can to prevent that from happening. There are nearly 190,000 vacancies in this sector – let’s not add to it.”
It seems companies cannot afford to wait until small cracks become mighty fissures. Instead, we need to ask ourselves the big question – what is the impact of doing nothing?