In this article
Catering tips and tricks are needed now more than ever. Working in food preparation is a challenging industry, with plenty of rules, guidelines, and regulations to follow. You can take these in your stride and continue to improve your work and your business with our tips on catering.
In the UK, the hospitality sector is the third largest sector in the economy. More specifically, the food services management sector is estimated to be worth around £35 billion per year. Although this means there is a lot of competition in the industry, there is also room to grow. Our tips and tricks for catering businesses and employees aims to help you do exactly that.
Owners of catering businesses, catering managers, and all employees that handle food have a lot of responsibility. Everyone needs to stay up to date with food hygiene requirements and receive regular training, and there are lots of things that can be done to drive improvement in the meantime.
To make sure you are ready to face the challenges that come your way, we’re going to look at:
- The importance of food hygiene regulations.
- Tips to keep your catering business running smoothly.
- Keeping your kitchen in good working order.
- Tricks to keep your stock controlled and well-managed.
Giving you the tools you need to ensure your catering business is performing at its best.
Why is it important to follow food hygiene regulations?
We’ve all had a bad tummy after eating something dodgy. Usually, food poisoning is little more than diarrhoea and/or vomiting. Sometimes, eating bad food can lead to a much more severe illness that isn’t so easy to dismiss.
Working in direct contact with the food that people eat gives you great responsibility. It’s possible that you could inadvertently make someone very sick, or you can follow correct food hygiene regulations and be confident that you’re serving clean and well-cooked food.
Clearly, the most important reason you need to follow good food hygiene practices is to stop other people getting sick. Some of the common causes of food poisoning in the UK are:
- Campylobacter – The most common bacteria to cause food poisoning in the UK, usually found in undercooked poultry
- Salmonella – Found in raw eggs and meat and unpasteurised dairy products
- Listeria – Common in chilled, “ready-to-eat” foods like cooked meats and soft cheeses
- Escherichia coli (E. coli) – Usually caught from undercooked beef and unpasteurised dairy products
- Shigella – These bacteria cause dysentery and is usually due to washing food in dirty water
- Viruses – Norovirus and others are passed from person to person due to poor hand hygiene
- Parasites – Not common in the UK but can be picked up from uncooked meats and dirty water
You can mitigate all of these by following good food hygiene practices.
Further, you will encounter customers who have food allergies. An allergic reaction to nuts can lead to anaphylactic shock in extreme circumstances. When you have good food hygiene practices in your production areas you can prevent allergens moving from one type of food to another, thus protecting your customers.
As well as protecting the people who come into contact with the food in your catering business, good food hygiene protects the business. You can expect your food business to be inspected every six months, although it could be less depending on your local authority.
Your business will be given a public rating based on your adherence to food hygiene requirements. A five-star rating will give customers confidence in you; a low rating could lose you business. You might even get closed down if you get a low rating and will need to invest to get your rating back up. Good food hygiene is good for business.
Catering tips and tricks
Whether you’re new to the catering industry or have been operating in the sector for years, there’s still room to learn and understand more. Our tips and tricks for catering are designed to get you to revisit some basic ideas and, hopefully, give you some inspiration to change up your processes.
We don’t mean cut corners and do everything cheap. Saving money in your business will see you through tough patches. Contract caterers might have times when there are less clients coming through the door; caterers in the hospitality industry will likely face seasonal peaks and troughs.
Having financial reserves will not only see you right in these low times, it also means you have capital if your refrigeration unit packs in or your delivery van breaks down. Having some savings is also a sign of good business and cash management in the business.
You should also look to reduce overheads wherever necessary – this is a business tip that caterers should take heed of:
- Be sure to evaluate your suppliers regularly so you know you’re getting the best deal.
- Are you sure you need all your rented kitchen space?
- Will investing in a delivery van be cheaper than the two scooters you currently use?
- Assess your overheads and see if better phone, electric, or insurances could save you cash.
Checking you’re not spending more than you should will ensure your business remains healthy with a good cash flow.
Listen to your guests
Food is all about how your guests and customers experience it. When you cater, your final aim should always be guest satisfaction. What can you do to ensure everyone is happy?
If you provide the front-of-house staff in your catering business, you can have your servers take immediate feedback from guests as they clear plates. “How was the food?” allows the guests to express how they feel immediately.
Other ways you can take feedback from guests include:
- Feedback cards on tables or at exit points.
- Email a survey to guests the following day.
- Have a debrief session with the primary client, if you catered an event.
- Request guests leave feedback on social media.
- Follow tags and page mentions on social media for unsolicited feedback.
Be open to potentially negative feedback and take it as a way to get better rather than something you can’t get past.
Prepare in advance
As well as looking after the business side of your catering company, the practicalities of providing food to large groups of people needs strong coordination. You need to get the basics of your business right to generate money and satisfy customers.
Have a strong lead-in planned for big events. You can create a schedule of tasks that need completing three months, one month, one week out from the event. You might need to get your meat order in three months ahead, confirm your staffing one month before, and do a final location check one week out.
When your catering business is a daily business, such as in a hotel or nursing home, you still need to be prepared. Have your business continuity plan up to date. What do you have in storage in case you have delivery problems? Are you able to still prepare meals during a power cut?
It might feel counterintuitive, but sharp chefs’ knives in a kitchen are safer. The sharper a blade, the less pressure needed to cut food, therefore lowering the chance of the knife slipping and causing an injury.
Have knife sharpening steels on hand for your chefs to be able to maintain the sharpness of their blades. 15 to 20 degrees is the optimum for sharpening knives, with a lower number producing a sharper blade.
Include checking the sharpness of knives in your kitchen operating rhythm so it’s constantly monitored. Trust your chefs to know when their blade needs to be sharpened or even replaced.
Clean as you go
How often does your kitchen look like a bomb’s hit it? After a busy service you can expect there to be some mess and dirty pots and pans around but it shouldn’t be overwhelming.
There are some basic catering tips that your kitchen can follow that will keep it running better. Implementing “clean as you go” throughout the kitchen will improve your food safety and also make your kitchen more productive.
1. Remove outer packaging like boxes and cases before taking food into the kitchen.
2. Ensure food packaging goes in the bin right away and watch to check it doesn’t touch food preparation surfaces to avoid cross-contamination.
3. Declutter your food preparation surfaces; consider storing knives on magnetic wall strips and having shelves or hooks for pots and pans. Keeping surfaces clear means less space for bacteria to breed.
4. Clear up spills, breakages, and other food accidents, as soon as is possible. If raw food has been dropped or spilled, be sure that the area is disinfected before continuing work.
5. Clean work surfaces between every task, e.g. wipe down the counter after you’re done chopping veggies and before you start cutting meat.
A great catering tip to reduce your food wastage and therefore reduce costs, is to use FIFO. It means “first in, first out”. Basically, you use the oldest stock – that’s not expired – first and anything that’s new doesn’t get opened or used until the old stock is finished.
We’ve got some great FIFO catering tips and tricks in this article, including:
- Putting old stock at the front of stores so it can be found easily.
- Stack new supplies at the back of stock areas.
- Check all stock is in date before using.
Use by and best before tips
According to the Food Standards Agency, these two have different meanings that you and your kitchen staff need to be aware of. They will work in conjunction with your FIFO policies.
Use by dates are the last day that you should use the food. It’s because of the chances of bacteria growing after a certain period. You could give someone food poisoning if you get this wrong.
Best before dates tell you about the quality of the food and are common on frozen and tinned foods. Something that’s been in the freezer for a year shouldn’t be harmful, but it won’t taste so great.
Catering tip – Use by and best before dates can be hard to locate; you can add extra labels to your food items so dates are clear and easy to spot.
Be sure your team know the difference between the two dates – you could make someone very sick and even fail a food hygiene inspection if you’ve got out of date food in your kitchen.
Prioritise food hygiene
The best way to build a solid reputation as a caterer is to serve great food. Cooking that food in a clean and hygienic kitchen needs to be your number one priority.
Catering tips and tricks to make food hygiene your number one consideration include:
- Cook food properly – Have thermometers handy to check internal temperatures, and food safe wipes to clean them. Have a chart next to all cooking stations with the minimum temperatures to be achieved.
- Regularly train your staff – Food hygiene standards can change over time; be sure your staff get at least annual training to ensure they’re up to date and refreshed on everything they need to know.
- Maintain your equipment – Fridges and freezers should have their temperatures checked regularly; ovens, grills, etc need to be regularly cleaned to prevent build-up of grease and dirt.
- Have more than enough equipment around – You need different knives and chopping boards for different foods, but having one of each will slow your kitchen down. Make sure you’ve got lots of everything your chefs and staff need so no one feels they need to compromise.
Organise the environment and menu
Partly, this feeds into being prepared with your catering business. Knowing what’s going to be cooked allows for the right food to be ordered and stored for the right length of time – there’s no point taking a delivery of fresh chicken weeks before a wedding breakfast.
If you’re an outside caterer, do a recce of the venue in advance to check on storage and chiller facilities, whether the kitchen is safe from trip hazards, etc. If your hotel kitchen is preparing for a big event get all your workstations ready for a busy night and take on temporary staff, with appropriate training, where necessary.
Create a practical menu
When you cater to a wide range of people most days, you need to be practical with your options. A useful business tip for catering is to offer as many options as possible to satisfy different customers.
At a very minimum, you should offer vegetarian and vegan options, and you can consider offering gluten- and dairy-free options, too. As well as highlighting these on your menu, be sure your kitchen follows food hygiene requirements to avoid cross-contamination.
Consider the equipment, space, and staff you have when deciding the food you’re going to provide. It may be worth investing in new equipment, such as a deep fat fryer, if you decide to serve chips as a side with everything, but do you need a bain-marie for that one dish you want to serve as a special?
Your kitchen should be uncluttered – avoid having hundreds of tools if you don’t have the space for it. Be practical with the space and skills your team has.
There are lots of tips and tricks for catering businesses to take heed of. You can improve your business, increase your profits, and build a great reputation by following food hygiene requirements and implementing the tips on catering we’ve provided here.
You can improve your catering company through making sound business decisions, ensuring your kitchen is run safely and effectively, and looking after your customers and front of house, too.