Innovative practice - Fine dining

Creating a restaurant-style experience and using meal deals to increase the uptake of school dinners

The background

Three years ago, with little student uptake of its meals, Corpus Christi Catholic Sports College resolved to revamp its school dinners. The school decided it could turn the popularity of its kitchen around by investing in a chef, poached from a local hotel. Chef Chris Callagher and business development director Cath Wallace transformed an old gym into a brand new restaurant called Il Cenacolo. After winning a TES Schools Award for their restaurant, the team began looking at ways to further increase uptake of lunches.

The project

The catering team designed a good-value "meal deal" costing #163;2.10, which consists of any main course, a sweet and a carton of pure fruit juice or a bottle of water.

Mr Callagher and his team have been able to keep prices low while using high-quality ingredients by building up good contacts with local suppliers. Recently, they have begun generating additional income by catering for events - including a wedding held at the school - and they have used the money to subsidise some students' meals and improve the restaurant-style experience, offered with TVs and other gadgets.

On top of that, the school grows its own fruit and vegetables in its newly transformed "market garden", and links work there to the curriculum in order to promote healthy eating.

Ms Wallace says: "We can rotate 12-week menu cycles, and we have such a good relationship with local suppliers that butchers will ring us up and tell us if a special delivery of a particular meat has come in, and we'll just change the menu. We negotiate with suppliers, and then we re-negotiate.

"We've made such a profit in increasing the dinner uptake and starting catering for external events that we've purchased a pizza oven and are hoping to recruit a second chef. Any additional money, we are able to re-invest elsewhere in the school."

Tips from the scheme

- Recruit a chef and use their expertise to haggle and experiment with the menu.

- Have a variety of expensive and inexpensive menus to maintain popularity - for example, put on a roast dinner one day, followed by a cheaper but equally appetising pasta bake or curry the next.

- Ensure the chef is supported by someone on the business side of the school who can manage the books and so on, freeing the chef up to interact with suppliers and organise menus.

Evidence that it works?

The proportion of Corpus Christi pupils eating school dinners has risen from 25 per cent to 90 per cent. The school has seen a significant increase in profits, and two local primaries have chosen to make the school's kitchen their lunch provider.

The project

Approach Creating a value-for-money meal deal available in a restaurant-style dining area

Project started: 2008

Led by: Chef Chris Callagher

The school

Name: Corpus Christi Catholic Sports College

Location: Preston, Lancashire

Number of pupils: 745 (mixed)

Age range: 11-16

Intake: Above-average numbers from ethnic minorities; below-average numbers on free school meals

Specialist status: Sport and technology

Ofsted overall rating: Satisfactory (2011).

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