Food industry research round-up: the core issues impacting people on the ground

Ollie Brand

In 2022, Zupa commissioned independent research to better understand food service challenges and provision across care, contract catering and restaurants. We've unearthed key themes and findings common to all sectors.

Over the course of the last 12 months, Zupa has commissioned three rounds of independent third-party research across the care home, contract catering and restaurant sectors in a bid to delve deeper into the key issues and challenges facing foodservice and catering teams today. As the sector continues to operate in a largely unpredictable post-pandemic world, the research aimed to shed some light on how people on the ground were being impacted operationally on a day-to-day basis – and how that in turn, might be attributable to many of the challenges being faced. This research was particularly timely as the resilience and innovation of UK catering and foodservice was - and still is - frequently being tested.

In partnership with independent market research specialist Censuswide (regulated by ESOMAR), Zupa polled close to 1,000 UK industry professionals in total, from care home managers and contract caterers to operations managers, head chefs, catering managers, restaurant owners as well as hospitality professionals and kitchen staff, to name a few. Participants were asked questions about their day-to-day roles as well as in relation to common issues affecting the sector, such as the tasks that may be being side-lined due to lack of time and resource, quality of service, morale, retention, training, happiness and opportunities to work more creatively within their roles.

We issued each of our survey findings independently and, more recently, aggregated the feedback to compare the findings of each and to see if there were commonalities across the sector. Although Zupa surveyed professionals across a variety of different roles from within care, restaurant and hospitality catering positions, there were a number of key themes that seem to resonate across the board. Most notably perhaps, is that all three sectors claim that there are key tasks being overlooked due to lack of time in the working day. Our research findings show that whether care homes (86%), contract catering (99%) or restaurants (99%) the resounding opinion is that most members of staff do not have the time, resource or the support to complete their day-to-day jobs – which ultimately means service (and people) are suffering. It is no coincidence, perhaps that these sectors are also some of the most impacted by staff shortages and retention challenges. Such pressure is clearly having a knock-on effect on so many areas from staff retention to quality of service and lack of innovation.

If we analyse all three sectors and extract the common threads in terms of exactly what is suffering as a result of lack of time and resource, a clear pattern begins to emerge: for care home workers 54% said staff happiness is overlooked, likewise those working in contract catering say the same (44%) as do those in the restaurant profession (41%) – there is a sense of frustration amongst staff who believe that their wellbeing is overlooked, there is a general feeling of low morale and also a lack of commitment and investment from businesses in providing adequate training for their staff. In fact, training is another common theme that resonates across all of these sectors, with care home staff, catering staff and restaurant workers directly attributing lack of training to poor staff retention.

Training is a vital element of any job, especially in customer-facing sectors like catering and hospitality, but with the industry battling fewer resources and continued budget cuts, finding the time or inclination for training is becoming more challenging. But by ignoring the need for critical training and engagement programmes that allow staff to grow in confidence and innovate, hospitality businesses are creating a vicious, self-perpetuating cycle which directly impacts their revenue, customer relationships and future profitability. It is vital that operators recognise training as a cornerstone of their people strategy.

Creativity (or lack of it) is another key theme that came out of our research as all three sectors said they don’t have the time to be creative with menus. Lack of training is part of the problem, but this is also coupled with poor business vision and team cohesion. For example, a decline in chef creativity was called out by over 20% of catering respondents who said chefs don’t have the time to innovate. Many of the respondents Zupa polled are chefs themselves, and when they were asked what they would do with more time in their working day, 65% said they would invest in the creativity of their cooking and menus. Which suggests the appetite is out there for change?

In summary, we can see that the issues affecting businesses are intrinsically linked to people and process. People don’t have enough time and process takes up too much of the little time they do have. Yet, it is clear from the results of these surveys that there is a failure to make the connection between long-winded, admin-intensive processes which impact staff motivation, morale, happiness, quality of service, resource and time for creativity. Automating processes brings significant benefits to businesses that are buckling under the burden of lack of staff and bandwidth – not to mention rising costs and inflation which means managing costs is also more important than ever. As well as having the ability to transform operation performance and profitability, recognition that the right technology can help to reduce pressure on over-stretched and short-staffed teams and give them back more hours in their day, will in turn have a direct impact on their day-to-day happiness.

Summary: Core issues impacting day to day roles according to recent research:

  • Happiness and low morale
  • Lack of investment in training
  • No time for creativity
  • Lack of resource and time to complete tasks
  • Quality of service/care being overlooked
  • Outdated processes and heavy admin causing frustration

Research reports

Want to find out more about any of our individual research reports? Get in touch here and just let us know which sector and we will send you the respective pdf report.