Catering and coronavirus: Moving forward

By Matthew White, chair of The University Caterers Organisation (TUCO) and director of catering, hotel and conferencing at The University of Reading

As we reflect on the last few months, it’s clear the seismic change in the way we operate, and the services we provide, will have a lasting impact.

As the scale of the pandemic was starting to be understood, most students moved off campus to go home, but understandably some were unable to do so. As a result, the balance between shutting down operations, but facilitating access to everyday needs for those who remained was a delicate one.

Indeed, university food and beverage stocks, as well as buildings, are continuing to be repurposed. For example, the sports centre at Bangor University was changed into a field hospital, while the University of the West of England has seen the conversion of its Exhibition and Conference Centre into the NHS Nightingale Hospital Bristol.

Donating excess stock to the NHS and food banks has been happening up and down the country. With only one of its ten catering outlets currently open on The Canterbury campus, The University of Kent’s hospitality team donated more than 500 items of surplus stock to Dover Foodbank to help those in need.

Similar actions have been in abundance elsewhere with my own university at Reading donating nearly £3,000 worth of goods to food banks and the NHS, whilst Bath Spa University donated goods in their local community. The Royal Agricultural University has also been putting its team to good use by producing frozen meals for the isolated, vulnerable and NHS.

In addition to universities, TUCO offers its market-leading procurement services and support to a wide range of members, which includes 50 local authorities, 36 NHS Trusts and 100 charities.

While we are adapting to the current situation and pivoting our operations to meet changing needs, questions do, of course, remain as to where we go from here and what future business operations need to look like. TUCO’s most recent three-part webinar on ‘the new normal for catering and hospitality’ explored these topics in a series of panels. The recordings are available on the TUCO website and offer members a crucial resource in understanding the landscape of the future and the chance to learn how their peers were rising to the challenge.

For example, one of the key learnings from the webinar explored how many universities would expand their takeaway or delivery services and operate a pre-order model to protect against food waste.

We may still not be quite used to the new normal yet, but I’m confident that together with our members, we’ll be able to share our resources and expertise to get through this together.


www.tuco.ac.uk
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