How chef creativity can boost cost control whilst ensuring plate quality

Lynda Greeves
Cost control
Food service

There are many ways to get more value from food, from exploring different cuts of meat to researching seasonal produce and special offers – but this level of intervention requires creativity, innovation and time. It is imperative to connect the dots between unnecessary or inefficient manual processes that are a huge time drain across their workforce, and freeing chefs up to do the job they love.

Right now, UK organisations providing food service – from residential care homes and schools, through to contract caterers and restaurants - are being pushed to their limits amidst rampant food inflation and supply issues. And, for most, mapping the contours of this avalanche of problems can be daunting and bewildering, especially at a time when trying to navigate a staff shortage.

The added challenge for the hospitality industry is that consumers are directly impacted by food inflation as well as rising oil and gas prices, and are tightening their belts and cutting back on their discretionary spend. As such there is a great deal of pressure on caterers to provide high quality, nutritious dishes at affordable price points for more frugal-driven diners. As businesses aren’t able to put their prices up as much as they may need to, this begs the question: what other options do foodservice businesses have?

In July, the accountant firm UHY Hacker Young, reported that restaurant insolvencies had risen 64% year on year. Last month, it calculated that a record 60% of the UK’s top 100 restaurants are making a loss. Right now, every business operating in the foodservice sector is looking at ways to increase profit and curb spend, despite the fact that serving up delicious, quality plates of food is still a priority for ensuring long term survival. From a chef’s perspective there are many ways to get the most value out of foods purchased, from exploring different cuts of meat and how these are utilised, to researching seasonal produce and special offers, before adapting menus to suit – but this level of intervention requires creativity, innovation and time.

Findings from our recent survey of UK contract caterers, however, has revealed that lack of creativity and innovation is a key challenge for the industry right now. Lack of training is also exacerbating this problem, but this is also coupled with poor business vision and team cohesion. A decline in chef creativity was called out by over one fifth of respondents who say 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 menu design. Which suggests the appetite is out there for change.

Chefs clearly want to create exciting menus. They want to expand their ingredient selection and to have the opportunity to cook and be creative, but at the moment these aspirations are clouded by inflation, lack of bandwidth and a business imperative to get the job done. Yet, innovation in this sector is vital - and could even help reduce costs.

Given more time to do the jobs they’ve trained for, chefs can focus more on how best to utilise ingredients, create more appealing and more cost-effective menus, as well as ensure they were getting the best prices and quality across a wider network of suppliers. A key to unlocking some of these pressures is time, and the right technology can help to improve that – from helping with effective menu planning, costing a plate of food, and controlling costs to managing stock and inventory, live price comparison - as well as managing nutritional and dietary requirement.

Could keeping costs as keen as possible whilst maintaining menu quality and nutrition, therefore, be as simple as freeing up chef time? The problem is likely to be more multi-factorial, and many organisations are still failing to connect the dots between unnecessary or inefficient manual processes that are a huge time drain across their workforce, with some of the operational concerns chefs are raising, and it is here where investing in the right technology can really play a key role.

How can you build operational resilience in uncertain times?

Listen in to the recording of our webinar where we share the insights from our latest report of UK contract catering professionals. Click here to access. (30 mins)