8 June 2020

Workplace Feeding Post-Covid – by Paul Williams, Business Director

Since the Coronavirus Pandemic swept across the globe life has changed beyond recognition. As a business that provides catering facilities to multiple workplaces that remained open through the crisis, we had to adapt quickly. With astonishing rapidity, we transformed our outlets in a way that allowed us to continue serving high-quality meals to essential workers without compromising on safety. I believe our team has done an outstanding job, and wanted to share some of our learnings ahead of more businesses preparing to reopen in a post-Covid world.

Social Distancing isn’t a barrier to great service

Before the pandemic, we had been awarded the new Amazon distribution centre contract in Darlington, scheduled to open in May.  When things started moving towards lockdown that date moved forward in order to support the government with Covid-19 testing kit distribution.  We managed to maintain social distancing front and back of house whilst recruiting, inducting and training a whole new team for the site.   It means that, as we look towards the future of our services, we have a team who have only experienced working in a socially distanced way. These experiences have helped us implement changes across our other sites and develop better ways of providing effective services beyond the pandemic.

A crisis promotes creativity

It was clear from the outset that the quick turnaround in Amazon combined with the Covid crisis meant the traditional steps towards opening a restaurant were no longer an option.  We had to explore a range of alternatives quickly to make sure we could open on time.  Starting with packed lunches, we supplied additional vending machines to increase choice for employees as we refined our offerings.  Our team worked round the clock to design a completely new service model from scratch.  Reducing human interaction was our next step – pre-portioned meals in disposable packaging were displayed with a bar code so that customers could collect their meal, self-scan and pay through an unmanned till.

Restaurants offer comfort and familiarity in strange times

We operate the distribution centres for Sainsburys.  As the centres remained open to provide food for the nation, we’ve been there to support them.  Our teams have been operating every day and have responded positively during the uncertainty of personal circumstances, sickness and different shift patterns. As advice regarding social distancing and PPE developed, we were quick to implement – including facemasks for all staff, adapting menus to remove self-service options and installing Perspex screens to protect staff and customers.

Despite the disruption, customer satisfaction scores have been off the charts, with numerous plaudits for our positive and cheerful staff.  Providing a clean and hygienic space alongside healthy and affordable meals with familiar smiling faces (albeit behind a mask) has been positively received by everyone. As one customer put it ‘the team are always smiling, always greet you with good wishes. Well done you for keeping us fed so we can feed the nation’.

The new normal becomes second nature

Four weeks ago, we reopened Ford Dunton, a new contract for us.  The team returned to work with security taking temperatures at the entrance to the building and adapting to wearing the new PPE.  They also had to get to grips with a new service model. ‘Grab and go’ meals took the place of self-service and social distancing measures were enhanced by having fewer staff on site.

Adding to the pressure was a visit from Simon Jack and the crew from BBC News at Ten to film in the restaurant, reporting on how a socially distanced site could work.  The Group Manager Denise said ‘the new measures were slightly strange at first but you get used to it quickly and get on with it’.

Closer together through adversity

Through this whole period, our people have really stood out. Many of us have been personally affected by the crisis, be it financially or through illness.  However, the teams have pulled together to look after one another, stay cheerful and ensure that although the way we are working has had to adjust, we can still deliver the same first-class service to our customers.

No one could have predicted this pandemic, or how big an effect it would have on our working lives, but it has shown that through effective leadership, planning and communication change can happen quickly.  As a business it is about using your team and your industry knowledge to continue providing an excellent service whilst adapting to the world around you as it evolves.  It has left me feeling confident that whatever lay ahead during Covid, and beyond, we are well placed to continue serving and supporting our clients.