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Contract caterers brand online bids ‘a nightmare'

17 March 2005 by

Online bidding for contracts has failed to revolutionise the contract catering sector and was universally slammed at last week's Hospitality exhibition.

Panellists at the debate, organised jointly by the Foodservice Consultants Society International and the European Catering Association, branded online bidding as a means of awarding contracts a "nightmare". Central services manager for AstraZeneca, Trevor Stone, said: "It is fine if you are bidding for a product but it's different bidding for a service. Online tenders work all right, but online auctioning doesn't."

There was also consensus that consultants and catering operators needed to continue to build mutual trust when planning food service strategies.

Controversy raged on the subject of facilities management, however, with operators and facilities management representatives at loggerheads. "Facilities management companies don't understand the complexity of contract catering," said Chris Stern, of Stern Consultancy.

Ian Fielder, chief executive of the British Institute of Facilities Management, disagreed, warning caterers to "get real". "Facilities management are your new clients," he said.

Finally, further moves towards high-street trends, grab'n'go and grazing menus were universally accepted. But it was recognised that in-house catering needed to offer an alternative to the high street as, in the words of one panellist, "Customers don't want to eat Pret A Manger every day."

What The experts predict

Chris Stern, principal consultant, Stern Consultancy "The sector will become more focused on service, and more commercial, as staff feeding areas look increasingly like the high street. Staff catering outlets will close if operators don't meet companies' cost targets. It will be a ‘use it or lose it' situation."

Trevor Stone, central services manager, AstraZeneca "There'll be more grab'n'go and all-day dining. Reducing subsidies for operations will mean some of them closing, but there won't be a massive change."

Alastair Storey, chief executive, BaxterStorey "The UKeconomy could dramatically change, but the market has grown from £1b in 1990 to £4b now and it's still growing. There'll also be an increase in health awareness and the freshness of produce, as I believe people are prepared to pay for quality."

The big issues
Hugh Cook, proprietor, the Elephant's Nest Inn, Tavistock, Devon "We need to find a reliable chef. And, being here, we need to generate winter business."

Sergeant Sarah Percival, Catering Support Regiment, Royal Logistic Corps "Recruitment is a big issue - getting the kids in and keeping them. We want them to realise there is a career path here if they want it."

Susan Fenner, managing director, Jeeves Catering, Peterborough "We are expanding quite quickly, but it's not the food or looking after clients that are the problems, it's finding quality casual waiting staff. We don't get much help from the catering colleges, either."

John Corrigan, managing director, Moorings hotel, Banavie, Inverness-shire "Continuing to trade at a profit! Also, the English fluffed the smoking ban issue, as bar staff in pubs still get exposed to the fumes, so it's pointless. There's lots of support for the complete ban in Scotland."

Stephen Lorton, commercial director, Paultons Park, Ower, Hampshire "We have to cater for the changing tastes of our visitors and keep ahead of health and safety legislation. We also need to offer the right food, and that means what the visitors want to eat. Although we try to have healthy alternatives, visitors don't usually go for it."

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