Trafford Council and Wigan Council’s new smart catering system - Evolve - has helped to reduce queues, engage pupils and assist meal uptake, whilst increasing debt control and efficiency. APSE Direct spoke to Trafford Council’s Philip Valentine and Wigan Council’s Carmel Foster- Devine to hear more about this APSE Service Award-winning initiative.
The development of our Smart Catering System (SCS) originated from the recognition of a changing business and technological landscape where our customers, be they schools, pupils or parents, are exposed to intuitive, efficient and smarter processes every day, and their expectations are increasingly driven by technology assisted lifestyles.
In order to meet our customers’ needs, and remain competitive, we needed to move to digital platforms for both meal ordering and online payments whilst remaining committed to supporting our schools and offering a living wage to our staff. Embracing new technology and digital solutions, whilst continuing to deliver a high quality, efficient service, was a key priority for the local authority.
Following early investigations, it became apparent that whatever system was procured would not be exclusive to local authority services, as there are various systems available on the open market delivering partial solutions. Thus the systems already in existence would not meet our customers’ needs, or provide us with a unique selling point assisting with long term business stability, or retention of a competitive edge.
Trafford reviewed issues from a reverse perspective and, rather than a traditional school meal software developer, engaged a food manufacturing, software development company (MCG) to provide an end to end system that would be under the control of Trafford Catering Service. Thus the system was future proofed by being flexible enough to meet any changes in our business requirements, without the financial issues of increasing license and development costs.
A partnership with Wigan Council (through a Memorandum of Agreement and a financial contribution), saw the two Councils working with the private sector partner (MCG) to further develop Evolve and enable the acceleration of the online meal payment option.
Our smart catering system (SCS) reduces queues, engages pupils and assists meal uptake, increases debt control and efficiency, and reduces waste. There is added reassurance to parents, school and kitchen as dietary/allergen needs are highlighted by SCS, triggering warning alerts at key points in the process. Debt management control can be improved as ordering/taking of meals can be restricted if insufficient credit exists, or the balance has dropped below a specified threshold (which can be a negative value), agreed with the school.
SCS provides a full audit trail from parent’s payments, to meal orders, to allergen/dietary needs, and kitchen confirmation of the child arriving at the servery and receiving their ordered meal. There is a ‘triple lock’ process to ensure that no child receives an inappropriate meal. All ingredients have allergens recorded against them, so when the child’s allergen requirements have been inputted, at the point of ordering, SCS will not offer conflicting meal choices. When the child arrives at the servery, SCS triggers allergen alerts for the kitchen staff on screen, ensuring the child does not receive anything contradictory.
SCS allows better management of menus across the schools catered for, and reduces unnecessary deviations from the agreed menu. This enables a reduction in waste as only the meals required are cooked, which, combined with increased service speed, ensures the school’s lunch schedule is met. The system also allows for quality audits to be undertaken using online forms input directly into SCS, recording a range of data essential to kitchen management.
An additional benefit is that SCS is modular and schools can choose the options required, including resource management, debt management etc.
This project approach utilised the best of the public and private sector. The erasure of preconceptions of school catering by removing inhibitors for change, leveraged the skills and expertise of the public sector, combined with private sector skills, innovation and flexibilities, and created a future proof system which delivers integratable modules. The dedicated project team with their mix of commercial knowledge and expertise, and operational knowledge, working in conjunction with the staff at the software company delivered SCS which is designed for inclusivity of all age groups across current and future technology platforms – tablets, smartphones, laptops, and desktops.
The project addressed the needs of stakeholders including local authorities, school governors, head teachers and staff, parents and children.
We continue to work with MCG on the development of the system and have recently introduced a time management module across all Wigan school kitchens. The system links into the Evolve kitchen management system and will enable access to staff hours and therefore labour costs within each kitchen. Further development of this module is underway which will allow for leave to be booked and resource to be managed more effectively.
Finally, ongoing development is also taking place with MCG for a high school module that will enable pre-ordering and collection enabling a more efficient service.