Outcomes of the catering review

Catering at York goes beyond the simple provision of food and drinks on campus. Linked to our brand, culture and values, catering plays an essential role in the experience of staff, students and visitors. The University’s catering offering influences how our community feels about living, studying and working at York and impacts how visitors perceive our institution.

To address the Catering Strategy Review findings, a Catering Improvement Plan was devised which has four main themes. These are outlined below, together with the actions taken so far and our future plans.

Why are we doing this?

Both the 2014 and 2017 Staff Surveys asked the question: ‘Do the catering outlets on campus meet your needs?’. The responses indicated that more could be done, and the action agreed by the Survey Review Group was that the University should:

  • Form a Catering Strategy Review Group, which includes External Relations, UoY Marketing, HODs, Accommodation Services, representatives from both students and staff and Commercial Services Catering. Consult with all stakeholders to review the catering provision and understand the results from the Staff Survey.
  • A Catering Strategy Group and Catering Strategy Implementation Group were subsequently formed to take forward the recommendations of this review. If successfully implemented, it will provide an environment that facilitates the social and cultural enrichment for staff, students and visitors.

Vision

To deliver an innovative catering service that provides high quality products and services at the right time, the right price, and in the right place to meet the desires and demands of an eclectic University community.

Background

In 2017 we were awarded the College and University Business Officers (CUBO) Caterer of the Year for the University Sector. Despite this however, the perception and experience of the quality of food and services across campus is mixed. The results of the 2017 Staff Survey revealed that only 26 percent of staff felt that the campus catering facilities met their needs. Interestingly, student feedback was, on the whole, more positive.

As a result of this feedback a Catering Strategy Review was commissioned to identify areas of improvement for catering on campus. These were: 

  • Variety of food options - there is an increasing demand for a greater variety of food to be on offer including; healthier options, non-meat and vegan products, and international cuisine.
  • Variety of pricing options - customers are requesting cheaper food options to be made available (i.e meal deals). The quality of food must, however, be maintained.
  • Investment in premises - customers noted the lack of investment in catering outlets and facilities in recent years, meaning many University restaurants, cafés and bars are now seen as outdated and uninviting.
  • Service standards - queueing and speed of service as well as service standards are areas for focus to improve the overall customer experience in many of our outlets.
  • Environmental sustainability - reduce our environmental impact by setting clear objectives for plastic reduction, reduce food waste and focus on procuring food from local sources. Also to reflect the emerging sustainability principles and strategic drivers of the new University Strategy 2030.
  • Financial sustainability - ensure commercial success, to allow for sustained financial resilience of our operations.
  • Investment in people - improve staff wellbeing and retention within catering.

The following areas were also identified as drivers for change:

Marketing and promotion - promote our offer, our outlets, and our principles and achievements.

Theme one - environmental sustainability

Theme one - environmental sustainability

Our aim is to:

  • Adopt a sustainable approach to minimise our environmental impact wherever possible.
  • Minimise food waste and be socially and environmentally responsible when disposing of waste.
  • Move to replace, reduce or reuse the amount of plastic we use, across all of our operations.
  • Ensure the sourcing of our food and drinks is ethical and, where possible, locally sourced whilst ensuring we have a sustainable supply of goods and services.
  • Work with our supplier base to promote our sustainability principles and move towards sustainable and ethical credentials becoming a contractual requirement.
  • Become a key partner in influencing the development of a new wider University Sustainability Strategy.

Progress to date:

In partnership with YUSU, we launched the YORCUP sustainable scheme in January 2019. We have sold over 3,500 cups and have another 10,000 on order. In comparison to 2018, there are now circa 700 fewer disposable cups being used on a daily basis. In total, our customers have saved over £14,000 since January 2019, benefitting from the 20p discount (the latte levy) every time they purchase a hot drink using a YORCUP. 

The income from the latte levy (£22,000, so far) has been spent on a variety of sustainability initiativesThese include: branded University water bottles given out during Freshers’ week, purchasing 200 bamboo food containers to give away in conjunction with promotions, encouraging the use of reusable takeaway containers, and investment in recycling infrastructure including YORCUP bins and can crushers around campus.

Other achievements:

  • The introduction of unbleached and recycled napkins.
  • Removal of all single-use plastic cutlery in 2018.
  • More water fountains added on campus, including in cafés. All fountains are listed on the Yorkshire Water Refill app to encourage students and staff to avoid purchasing plastic bottled drinks. 
  • Plastic bottled drinks are being phased out and replaced with cans and tetra pack containers wherever possible.
  • Working with YUSU and DECS to recycle more single-use coffee cups on campus.
  • Working with Starbucks and Costa to reduce the use of plastic and introduce cup recycling.
  • Working with 'YourCafé' and 'Fill Bellies, Not Bins' to discourage food waste.
  • Working with Scoop shop on campus to reduce the use of unnecessary packaging.
  • Food wastage is minimal on campus but any large scale waste which may occur on Open Days or large scale conferences is donated to a local homeless shelter.

Future developments:

  • Introduction of filtered water in glass bottles via Cucina within the next six months.
  • Reduction of paper promotions by developing easy to use web pages for information on sustainability, café locations, opening times and promotions.
  • No single use plastic-lined cups offered from catering outlets in 2020 (to be trialled).

As a result of the work carried out this year around sustainability, the Catering Department has achieved Gold in the NUS Green Impact.

Theme two - defining the offer

Theme two - defining the offer

Our aim is to:

  • Offer a more diverse menu range across our outlets.
  • Maximise the potential of our service by clearly defining and developing our offer to meet the needs of our diverse University community.
  • Introduce a greater range of healthier options including meat-free, vegan, and allergy / intolerance options.
  • Introduce more low-cost options including ‘meal deals’ in all outlets.
  • Improve or maintain the quality of our food offer, including Cucina, the University’s in house catering and hospitality service.
  • Ensure our portfolio of outlets are located and open in relation to customer needs. Working through the development of the campus to acquire suitable locations and prioritise services.
  • Ensure staff, students and visitors will be no more than five minute walk from any University catering outlet.
  • Provide places for social and cultural enrichment through food and ambience.

Progress to date:

  • Edge became Vedge, a plant-based café, on 23 September 2019. Vedge offers a great variety of vegetarian and vegan food such as falafel, hummus, fresh salads and bread to build your own veggie or vegan lunch. New furniture for the decking will be installed and ready for Spring 2020.
  • We have worked with YUSU to improve the decor and seating in Derwent Café and bar area.
  • Derwent Café has introduced healthy Buddha bowls alongside the popular Street Food and new deli-style flatbread paninis for lunch on the go.
  • We have introduced innovative new menus with dishes such as a Grains salad range, hot fresh bagels in the Library café and halloumi fries and avocado smash in Alcuin Bistro.

Future developments:

  • New venues offering more facilities across campus and better social spaces to work in, dine in and relax. A new café will open in the Catalyst Building on Campus East in early 2020.
  • A large new café will open in the new Management School on Church Lane, offering a high street feel, Starbucks coffee, artisan sandwiches and provide a bridge between the two campuses. 
  • King’s Manor Refectory will close in December, but plans are in progress to secure a new site for a café within King’s Manor.

Theme three - balancing the commercial drivers with provision of service

Theme three - balancing the commercial drivers with provision of service

Our aim is to:

  • Attract more staff, students and visitors to use our catering outlets and purchase our offering.
  • Reinvest revenue to fund improvements and make a greater contribution to life at the University.
  • Improve the financial resilience of our catering service and operate in an efficient and effective way.
  • Recruit, develop, motivate and retain the right staff to deliver an outstanding service to our customers.
  • Balance the portfolio of our catering outlets to enable those with a larger contribution to subsidise those that break even or make a loss, but are crucial to delivering a comprehensive service provision.
  • Provide a greater choice of pricing and deals for our customers.

Progress to date:

  • We have reduced the price of fruit this year to 50p and reduced the Vanbrugh Meal Deal to £3.95.
  • We have held prices this year for baguettes, soup, salads and jacket potatoes.
  • We have introduced more and better value promotions to all our customers including the ‘Essential Range’ of sandwiches.
  • The continued use of a local butcher; M&K butchers from York, for the majority of our meat supplies.
  • Following feedback regarding queueing and speed of service, we are currently rolling out a barista training plan to all front-line staff.
  • Commercial Services (York Conferences Ltd) has strengthened its Human Resources team to support with staff recruitment and retention.

Future developments:

  • The introduction of an ‘Essential Range’ of hot lunches to offer greater choice and value.
  • Changing our procurement system to provide greater control on food purchasing, better business information, and easier data for our chefs to follow recipes and improve consistency in food quality. 
  • Delivery of a Service Excellence training plan, to commence in 2020, which will improve the speed and consistency of service.

Theme four - communicating the offer

Theme four - communicating the offer

Our aim is to:

  • Develop a brand for catering at York that fits with and reflects the values and principles of the University.
  • Communicate a clear and engaging offer to staff, students and visitors.
  • Increase awareness of our offer, and the location and opening times of our outlets.
  • Tempt new customers to use University outlets and entice existing customers to visit us more often.
  • Engage the University population in our contribution to the principles of the University including our achievements in sustainability and corporate social responsibility.
  • Promote our outlets as places to socialise as well as to enjoy delicious food and drink.

Progress to date:

  • Following the review, we have improved the way we gather customer feedback. We now use Net Promoter Scores to measure trends. Customer feedback is responded to and complaints are dealt with appropriately.
  • We have updated our Eat at York webpages on the University of York website, highlighting up to date information on menus and opening times for all sites. 
  • We are working on a communications campaign to highlight the progress we have made and the changes to our services and food offer.

How we will make this happen?

Each of the four key themes are being delivered through detailed implementation plans that specify targets, timescales and responsibilities.

These plans are not static and will be reviewed regularly by the Catering Strategy Working Group, and progress will be reported at Student Life Committee meetings. We will continue to monitor customer satisfaction and analyse other data sources to measure success against our objectives.

We will link to and develop joint objectives with other related strategies including Campus for the Future - estates development, the Sustainability Strategy, Student Life Strategy, Equality and Diversity Strategy and of course, the overarching University Strategy.