Catering for schools, care homes, assisted living environments and business & industry (B&I) during a pandemic isn’t without its challenges. For Radish, the catering arm of Churchill Group, a typical day is a lot busier than pre-Covid19. In fact, it’s flat out. The team have had to think on their feet and adapt quickly. From preparing evening meals for those in assisted living homes, to curating hampers and packed lunches everyday for vulnerable children whom no longer have access to school meals, all while adhering to social distancing guidelines, the new normal has taken some getting used to. And we’re only at the beginning of what is set to be a long and probably bumpy journey.
B&I will witness the biggest challenge because of the complexity associated with large numbers of people taking breaks at the same time. From what we’re hearing, it’s unlikely that customers will be allowed to come into the onsite canteen or restaurant; these spaces are often fairly restricted in terms of square footage and it would be very difficult to maintain two metres between people, or even one metre if the government advice changes. Instead, customers will be encouraged to come to the counter to pick up a dish wrapped in plastic to avoid cross contamination. Payment will be via card only.
Other organisations aren’t even opening the onsite restaurants. Caterers are now having to come up with new solutions including pop-up service counters for takeaways to reduce close contact and ease the strain of small dining areas being used. The coffee shop offering will also change, either via socially distanced queuing, mirroring the approach of the UK’s supermarkets, or via an in-app ordering service and “al-desko” delivery. It may be that we see the return of trolley service.
While some offices are set to reopen their doors in the weeks to come, the education sector can’t enjoy as much clarity. Aside from the return of certain years, schools aren’t sure about when they’re allowed to reopen or how they will be able to do so safely. We are in talks about operating a staggered service based on a takeaway mechanic when the time comes for more pupils to return. Once again catering will have to adapt in light of the ever-changing situation. But at Radish we relish the challenge.
As you can imagine, our business has had to transform since the outbreak first hit. The operations team at Radish are no longer allowed into the environments that are catered for; they are having to manage their teams remotely which is a completely different style of management. We have really upped our communications efforts to support our teams throughout this time.
Other changes are afoot, too. For example, the onsite teams at assisted living sites have had to pair up in bubbles in order to work safely and effectively. Food is prepared in the kitchen, then packaged in disposables and delivered to the doors of residents. We are really proud to have fully recyclable /compostable disposable products so having to react quickly has not had any additional impact on our planet. Instead of eating within a restaurant, occupants are eating within their own apartments. Residents are stripped of the social element that makes mealtimes so enjoyable, so our teams are always thinking of the little things they can do to make people smile, to make these moments more memorable.
Those working in hospitality, a naturally social profession, suddenly aren’t seeing people anymore as part of their day to day roles. As such, it’s a very different service. You don’t mix with customers anymore. Sometimes you don’t even see them. Across the sector, there is speculation that this has had or will have a profound impact on mental health. To this end, Churchill is encouraging the team to be as healthy and as happy as possible through its WellMe programme. WellMe inspires and supports staff to make small changes in their day-to-day lives, such as encouraging ‘time to talk’ initiatives, or learning a new skill that will support their job role. The programme has identified five main wellbeing pillars. They are:
- ‘Be Active’ – do what you can, enjoy what you do, move your mood
- ‘Keep Learning’ – embrace new experiences, see opportunities
- ‘Give’ – your time, your words, your presence
- ‘Connect’ – talk, listen, be there, feel connected
- ‘Take Notice’ – remember the simple things that give you joy
Through various learning initiatives, sharing steps to living more sustainably, giving back to local communities and connecting with employees’ surroundings, WellMe helps to promote positive mindsets, personal development and both physical and mental health awareness. It is our way to stimulate, support and motivate staff throughout this difficult time.
There is other good stuff happening. Contract caterers have started to form a community to support each other through these difficult times which has proved invaluable. Elsewhere, food for the vulnerable, including school children, is being generously donated via food banks and other philanthropic initiatives. This pandemic is perhaps bringing out people’s caring sides. And since catering is about tapping into the little things that give people joy, we believe this is the industry’s opportunity to shine and to truly make a positive difference to our customers.
By Rebecca Bridgement from Radish