EXCLUSIVE: Caterers crave clever kit as clients consolidate kitchens

The availability of compact equipment that doesn’t compromise on performance is absolutely necessary if contract caterers are to adapt to the structural changes taking place in their market, one of the UK’s leading caterers has claimed.

Manufacturers have been ploughing huge sums of money into developing kit that fits into tighter footprints or has more than one use in recent years as the restaurant sector has felt the squeeze on kitchens.

And the same challenge is now being encountered in the contract catering world, where space that would have traditionally been allocated for catering facilities is being reclaimed for front-of-house purposes.

That provides numerous logistical issues that will only intensify, according to Matt Hay, culinary director of BaxterStorey, one of the country’s largest caterers with 8,500 staff and the best part of 400 client locations on its roster. 

“We still need to deliver the same service that we did before, but in a smaller kitchen. The sales team will go in and sell our business and then it is up to the chefs to go in there and make it work, which all ties into the equipment. My expectation for the next five years is that this trend of clients taking away space is going to continue, so what we need to do is focus on equipment that has the power to deliver the commercial output we need in a smaller environment. It is all about being clever with space and people — and absolutely looking at efficiencies — while giving great fresh, seasonal food.”

Mr Hay said that BaxterStorey recently worked with a client that wanted a Leon-style takeaway for their business because they had consolidated their catering footprint to a third of what it was but still needed to achieve the same numbers.

“We had to think very carefully about that and look at it differently, so we had a look at what’s going on in Europe, how the high street is dealing with it and how things like concessions work. However, we are different in the sense that the high street menu stays the same every day, whereas in contract catering it changes every day.”

One of the challenges facing contract caterers especially is that clients have often already started building kitchen spaces by the time catering contracts are awarded.

“The kitchen will have been designed around a certain thought process from the designers, but actually they should really speak to the chefs before they do that because the menu might not be a good representation of what the need is. So if you are going to have one induction stove and one small six burner, and you are going to do 300 covers out of it, and that’s both hospitality and vending, then it’s going to be a challenge. Everything has to be respected individually and that is a big challenge for us because specification is very different,” said Mr Hay.

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