Public sector focus: News from the TUCO conference

24 February 2017 by
Public sector focus: News from the TUCO conference

The University Caterers Organisation held its annual winter conference in December, where delegates heard about the positives of the Living Wage, the importance of employee engagement and how to train your team the Pret A Manger way. Amanda Afiya reports

The University Caterers Organisation (TUCO) winter conference was designed to inspire delegates to innovate. Held at the Kanaris Theatre and Foyer at the Manchester Museum, the event was opened by newly appointed chair Matt White. He welcomed delegates and reflected on the exciting developments at TUCO since the organisation's summer conference in July 2016.

"My first few months as chair of TUCO certainly haven't been quiet, he said. "Our pioneering TUCO Academy is going from strength to strength and now offers apprenticeships in a variety of catering roles. We also recently launched a groundbreaking e-procurement platform, TUCO Online, giving members complete visibility and control of the procurement process. And let's not forget the reveal of our new website and the biggest line-up of study tours to date.

"We work in a dynamic and innovative industry and I've spent the past few months catching up with our members at our regional meetings and learning about the fantastic work they're undertaking. We have a lot to be proud of and I'm excited for the months ahead as we see the higher education sector continue to grow."

Matt White
Matt White
White handed over to chief executive Mike Haslin and the speakers, including Simon Kitto of Purple Cubed, the Pret Academy's Ian Watson, Tess Lanning of the Living Wage Foundation, William Gorol, founder and managing director of Procure Wizard, Jon Broadhurst, head of catering at Sheffield Hallam University, Sheri-Leigh Miles of NETpositive Futures and Ian Jarvey of the University of Manchester.

The sky's the limit

The programme kicked off with a thought-provoking presentation from Watson, group head of the global Pret Academy. Watson has 30 years' experience in the hospitality industry and, for the past 18 years, has held senior leadership roles at Pret A Manger, including over three years as head of food development.

Ian Watson
Ian Watson

e Pret Academy delivers an incredible 1,171 training events, resulting in 13,534 team members being trained worldwide. The training, says Watson, ensures that the business has "healthy pools of successors" waiting in the wings to ensure the company, which has more than 350 outlets, has the right person in the right place at the right time.

The training is designed to support the company culture and covers six key elements: strong family trees (having plan Bs, filling vacancies quickly and teams voting in their new members of staff); Pret "behaviours" (being passionate, clear in their communication, a teamwork approach and great execution); opportunities (50% of all people who join Pret get promoted, 80% of managers joined Pret as a team member, and the company offers "good" jobs for school leavers and the homeless); generous rewards (such as paying what the company can afford, bonuses for everyone and "super awards" for star performers); and the importance of putting team members first and offering clear KPIs and buddy days.

Jon Broadhurst
Jon Broadhurst

Back to reality

Delegates also heard from Tess Lanning, head of business development at the Living Wage Foundation, who delivered a session on the merits of paying the real Living Wage.

Lanning oversees the Living Wage Commission, which leads on the development of new tools and tailored support services to improve job quality and performance in low-wage industries. She also heads up the Good Jobs Campaign, building high-quality pathways into Living Wage jobs for young people from disadvantaged communities.

Of course, all businesses in the UK must now pay the Living Wage to their staff, but it is something that has confused many people since its implementation last spring.

Lanning told delegates that it was important to know the difference between the Living Wage (a mandatory National Living Wage for workers aged 25 and above) and the real Living Wage. She explained that full-time workers on the real Living Wage - a rate based on what employees need to make ends meet and what employers voluntarily choose to pay - earn £2,000 more a year than those on the government minimum and £4,000 more a year in London.

The positives speak for themselves, highlighting that employers who paid the real Living Wage reported an 80% improvement in staff performance, 66% improved staff retention rates and 70% improved brand image.

In the case of brewery and bar chain BrewDog UK, which moved to a Living Wage in October 2014, uplifting pay for 180 of its staff, it saw 80% of managerial positions filled internally since the change, estimated a 75% fall in recruitment costs, and a 40% reduction in staff turnover.

Sheri-Leigh Miles
Sheri-Leigh Miles

Terms of engagement

Simon Kitto, commercial director of Purple Cubed, reinforced the importance of employment engagement. He warned delegates that, according to global research, 65% of employees are unhappy at work and only 13% do much more than show up on time.

Conversely, engagement and culture is the number one business issue for companies globally, and 85% of executives say employee engagement is important to their business.

Kitto stressed the importance of businesses "setting up for success", which involves getting the board involved (establishing the business case and metrics, and negotiating investment to improve employee engagement) and agreeing the culture and values.

In the case of former hospitality business De Vere Hotels and Village Urban Resorts, its work on employee engagement gave it a host of benefits: it added £3m to its EBITDA, increased its sale price by £30m, increased customer spend by £15 per room per night, it realised a saving of £400,000 on recruitment, the business's tribunals dropped to zero, turnover was down 57%, and it bagged several awards, including the inaugural Best Employer Catey in 2014.

Simon Kitto
Simon Kitto

TUCO Academy

During the conference, Mike Haslin, TUCO chief executive, took time out to run through the TUCO Training Academy, which trained nearly 400 delegates in 2016 across 28 courses and involving 67 institutions.

Study tours in 2016 saw the academy and its delegates visit Orlando, Bologna, Rungis in France and Copenhagen, among many other locations throughout the UK and further afield.

In 2017 the TUCO Academy will run its most ambitious set of study tours to date, including a visit to Koppert Cress in Rotterdam, San SebastiÁ¡n and the Basque Culinary Centre, and northern India, where delegates will visit the University of Delhi and experience Indian family cooking and street food. The academy also hopes to deliver trips to Vietnam and Cambodia and Taste of London.

Among the regional courses planned for 2017 is training relating to allergens, healthy food, strategic management, finance, sustainability and coaching.

For more details, visit

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