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Megabyte Catering

17 December 2008

Catering is not usually an area associated with hi-tec strategies, but Jane Fenwick has discovered how one contract caterer and its IT partner have used technology to drive their quality standards and innovation

MOST SUCCESSFUL BUSINESSES USE TECHNOLOGICAL advences to increase efficiency and
introduce new services; the knock-on benefit being cost-savings and/or better service for customers and end-users. Bartlett Mitchell is a niche contract caterer based in Surrey with over 70 catering clients in business and industry, education, healthcare and the service sectors. Its IT partner, Indicater, provides modular SaaS (Software as a Service) – web-based IT modules covering anything from accounts and stock control to marketing and HR, but which are personalised for every company and outlet.

Bartlett Mitchell and Indicater have been working together since 2002 when Indicater provided it with a web-based outlet accounting system that fed into the main company accounts system at head office. Since then they have adopted a very collaborative approach to developing new initiatives.

Contract measurement
According to Wendy Bartlett, Managing Director of Bartlett Mitchell, said, “One of the challenges for FM managers and contractors alike is the need for fair and measurable assessment of contract performance. We wanted to bring technology to the fore here to help both parties develop a greater understanding of contract performance, and improve and agree on future measurable KPI’s”.

Through Indicater, they developed a webbased add-on module called Snapshot, which assesses 133 different aspects of contract performance including:

....Hygiene, health and safety, and environment
....Finance and administration
....Menu planning, food production and nutrition
....Merchandising, customer relations and service standards
....Team players and training.

Three audits are completed annually – one by the site manager and two by external assessors and each audit also involves customer and client feedback.

Snapshot also allows an FM manager to access the data for their site and both parties can agree KPI criteria and future strategic priorities. It has also now been extended to record all senior management visits to each client site and the actions requested as a result. This way, the company can centrally check to make sure that each operation is receiving an appropriate amount of senior management focus.

Plans are now in place to develop Snapshot further to include hand-held PDA’s to make the process even faster. However, the next imminent launch for the two companies is a new tool called Dashboard which will give clients and Bartlett Mitchell management a one-page ‘at-aglance’ overview of all the key results from
their operation, including Snapshot, financial results and project updates. This will clearly demonstrate measurable changes in the management of the operation.

A regular criticism of incumbent caterers is that innovation dries up after the tender process. Bartlett
Mitchell believes innovation must become part of the corporate culture to ensure news ideas flow constantly.

David James, co-owner and Creative Director of Bartlett Mitchell said: “Contract caterers often work in a more
challenging environment than the High Street because customers are usually daily users and need to see regular changes to the catering offer in order to avoid menu fatigue. It’s imperative that the contractor meets this challenge but, throughout the entire contract period and not just pre and post tender time!”.

One of the tools used is its ‘365 Innovations’ calendar – an innovation booster with a different idea for every day, which is sent electronically in monthly segments to all of its operations. Every manager is responsible for adopting at least one of the promotions every week and ideas include unusual special days, tasting
promotions, fun activities for customers, competitions, links with events such as British Food Fortnight, and so on.

The Indicater IT platform provides a company intranet and all marketing initiatives are uploaded onto this 3 - 6 months in advance to enable onsite catering managers to plan their marketing activity. The marketing ideas come with recipes, specifications, photos of the finished products, and point of sale materials.

From a corporate perspective, Bartlett Mitchell can keep an eye on who is running what promotion and when, and managers are assessed on the level of promotional activity they complete. The results are also available to their clients who are given their own login facility to monitor the caterer’s activities.

Flexible food offers
Providing a food range that meets everyone’s needs is a challenge – especially when consumer preferences are becoming increasingly diverse and FM budgets and space available for catering is reducing. Bartlett Mitchell use a concept called ‘EATSMART’ to personalise dishes for customers. The same
core dish can be offered in up to four very different ways depending on whether customers are looking for a snack, main course or healthy option. For example, a Cajun-spiced chicken breast could be served either a) on Mexican Rice, b) with tomato salsa and a jacket potato, c) in a wrap with guacamole, sour cream and salsa, or d) with a crispy salad and baked tortilla chips. A vegetarian alternative would also be offered. The customer gets the choice and range they are looking for and the FM manager can provide a more extensive
service in a much more limited space.

Indicater and Bartlett Mitchell’s IT think-tank have developed a tool for managers to help share best practice. Their ‘Food Inspirations’ blog gives managers and chefs a vehicle to exchange ideas and recipes. Mark McCann, Company Executive Chef said, “We regularly upload our ideas and trawl ‘Food Inspirations’ and it’s great to see how new concepts are hatched from this.”

Healthy eating ‘DARE’ (Delicious And Responsible Eating) is a communication system to let customers know about the food they’re eating and includes a series of educational posters and postcards with food facts and tips to help get these messages across. DARE aims to serve information in bite-sized chunks that are easy to understand and helps influence eating habits.”

The first phase of DARE has covered six topics:

....Water - why we need it and how to make it more fun
....Exercise - how to keep your heart healthy
....Carbohydrates - the two types and how they effect your body
....Nutrition - smart thinking, the effect of nutrition on your brain
....Five a Day - how to do it
....Salt - the hidden dangers

Information and promotions linked to whichever of the six topics are currently being focussed on is made available via client intranet sites for restaurant users.

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