During the last week of June, the Local Authority Caterers Association held its annual conference, which also includes an exhibition of about 100 suppliers.
This type of event is great for both the buyer and the seller, as you can see many new ideas and products in a very short space of time. But during the day or two that you are speaking to suppliers, it is easy to forget just how many business cards you have given out and the number of people you have promised to see.
So, for the past six weeks, I have had endless calls from suppliers to set up meetings. In reality, I am unlikely to order from many of them, but those discussions can sometimes be the catalyst for new ideas, possibly resulting in a sale for the seller months or even a year down the road.
You always seem to pick up at least one new idea. This year, for me, it was a company providing full-colour printed menus in the form of wall planners and selling sufficient advertising space to provide me with enough free samples to distribute to all my primary school parents. So the conference proved to be a worthwhile investment.
Another successful event we have now tried twice in the space of three months is to hold a recruitment open day. Not a revolutionary idea, perhaps, but radical enough for us. Over the past year, the job market seems to have become tight for everyone, with plenty of competition at all levels.
In May, we put an advertisement in the local paper looking for staff to prepare school meals. We stressed that anyone could come along just for a chat and find out more about what we do. We hired one of our community halls and set up three teams of interviewers, hoping we might get some response.
Well, we ended up with more than 50 applicants on the day, and although they didn't all end up working for us, a large majority did. So, just before the end of the school year in July, we did the same again in another part of our borough. This time, we had over 70 applications.
We are now planning to hold at least three recruitment open days a year, as they, too, have proved to be a very good investment.
RICHARD WARE is catering and premises services manager at the London Borough of Havering
Next diary from Richard Ware: 20 September