Richard Woodward, General Manager for apetito’s Care Home Division, looks at the options facing care homes when it comes to making the right choice for their residents’ mealtimes.

When looking at meal provisions, care homes often feel they only have two choices: in-house or a contract caterer.

“There is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ choice but there are factors homes need to consider around which is the right service for their needs. Given the current economic climate and sector staffing crisis, managing cost and labour shortages without loss of service or provision are major deciding factors.

“There is of course a third choice for care homes to consider. Namely that of a ‘hybrid’ offer where pre-prepared meals are cooked on site and served to residents.

“For many care homes ‘fresh cook’ appeals. But there are inherent challenges in delivering a seamless quality service, and often a significant cost in preparing a quality fresh-cook service.

“And it should be asked; does it taste any better?  How are specialist dietary needs met?  How do you keep a firm handle on nutritional content?

“A contract caterer can appear to be an attractive alternative, with the promise of minimising work for the management teams and seemingly, taking away unpredictable labour concerns. But of course, alongside this, comes a loss of overall control which has been known (in some instances), to come back to bite.

“It’s fair to say that sometimes homes can have an unrealistic expectation of what a contract caterer can offer. The reality is that often, contract caterers are also struggling to recruit.

“There is also the issue of cost. Contract caterers are inherently more expensive as they look to make a margin that care homes wouldn’t, and one has to consider the exposure to ever-rising labour costs (on a labour reliant model), alongside absence and inconsistency issues based on the skills level of the person in the kitchen on any given day.

“Given the current economic climate, we know how important it is for care homes to balance costs and labour requirements. We are finding that more and more care homes are considering the middle ground and recognising that services such as our hybrid option are an extremely attractive option.

“Opting for a hybrid system where high quality pre-prepared meals are deployed, helps to insulate care homes against the ongoing staff crisis as it reduces the reliance on labour whilst ensuring high quality meals every day. With apetito, there is no need for a large, costly catering team, with care homes being able to reduce their labour requirements by as much as 50%.

“Costs are fixed, removing the headache of having to understand how they can be controlled. In fact, consistency of cost is a big plus for care homes using our service.

“Another benefit to using hybrid service is that safety of mealtimes is guaranteed, something which is far harder for in-house or contract catering teams to achieve. 

“There are increasing numbers of residents with dietary requirements and catering for these makes food preparation in the kitchen a complex task.

“Using a hybrid service helps to manage dietary requirements, reduces the risk of cross-contamination, and makes it easy to serve a variety of nutritious dishes that are suitable for all dietary requirements, taking away the stress of ensuring safe mealtimes.

“So, for homes looking to serve delicious food, whilst controlling costs, protecting themselves from labour shortages and simplifying catering for dietary requirements, it really is worth considering if the third way – the hybrid approach – could work.”