Welcome to the first of our Better Connected series of articles, which each take a look at the impact of digital transformation on different aspects of facilities management.
This piece was informed by an interview with Allister Richards, MD of Mitie’s catering business, Gather and Gather, and looks at the power of harnessing data to improve efficiencies and customer experience in corporate catering operations.

The perfect byte

Conventional wisdom tells us that food and technology are not obvious bedfellows – one is typically considered an artform and the latter more of a science. But this is changing rapidly. Technology and, more specifically, data are now essential for the delivery of food service excellence. Today caterers can have the best food in the world but without data they simply will not survive.
There are a number of reasons for this. Firstly, we have increasing pressures on margins with both wages and food price inflation rising considerably in recent years. Secondly, the industry is incredibly competitive; rival service providers are constantly looking for ways to address an endlessly diverse consumer demographic and stay ahead of the curve. Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, clients now expect tech capability comparable to that of their experiences outside the workplace. All of these factors are driving the growth of technology in the catering space.
So, what does this look like in practice? The answer to this question will always be prefaced by the requirements of the client. One may value evidence of productivity gains across an entire portfolio – reduced employee queueing times for example – whereas another might demand insights into how money is being saved at a particular site – which could be using time-based data to help schedule labour more effectively. How these demands differ will ultimately dictate how particular data insights are harnessed to improve provision.
There is, however, far more that can be gained beyond the financial picture. Employee app data, for example, can help caterers to formulate strategic decisions at both micro and macro levels. It could be that one employee tends to choose a particular combination of dishes on a Thursday lunchtime but never chooses to buy a coffee. It may be the case that a particular site’s staff tend to eat earlier on in the day, with numbers dropping drastically on a Friday. We might also see a preference for higher-calorie foods in certain sectors due to the physical nature of the work which employees carry out.
This type of ‘personalised’ information not only allows caterers to tailor provision accordingly but also helps formulate food campaigns that are reflective of consumer habits. This could, for example, take the form of a loyalty scheme that rewards repeat spending or even something like a nudge notification that informs the user they have missed their morning coffee. Employee-centric data is pivotal because a happier team that feels listened to will always be more likely to spend money on-site than go out for food, which of course results in greater income for the client.
But app technology can now also help caterers to meet the needs of a more discerning customer base. At some sites customers with certain ethical or dietary requirements can simply scan a QR code on a product or dish to reveal a range of information (everything from provenance to nutritional content and allergens present). Again, having this capability in place means the diversifying needs of a workforce are met, which in turn keeps customers coming back for more. Not only this, but it allows the service provider to be more transparent with its end-users.
Technology is now the norm for forward-thinking contract caterers. It not only helps to optimise planning, production, and resource but also pre-empt improvements to end-user experience. Good data means good food.

About the author

Allister Richards is managing director of Gather & Gather, Mitie Group’s award-winning catering business.  Gather & Gather delivers distinctive café, restaurant and hospitality services to corporate clients across the UK & Ireland with a particular focus on the application of market-leading consumer technology and wellbeing programmes.  Key contract wins and extensions scooped on Richards’ watch include Sky, LinkedIn, Burberry, Rolls-Royce and Vodafone.  Allister also oversees Creativevents, the exhibition and special events catering business acquired in 2012, which names Royal Ascot, Olympia Exhibition Centre and RHS Chelsea Flower Show amongst its prestigious client portfolio

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