Every few weeks, we have a new directive around social distancing and what we can do. Many businesses are starting to re-open, and many takeaways are already trading in some form.

Restaurants are planning when they will open and what their offer will be. Perhaps ‘take away only’, a meal kit to make at home or, they may have the space to sit diners two meters apart with the implementation of staggered dining. There’s a lot to consider, a lot of systems to put in place to protect staff, customers and the business. But let’s start with stock, the thing we need to run the business.

Nearly all catering businesses cancelled their bookings and went into lockdown as instructed by the government. The stock they had was either frozen, disposed of or stored. Now, with opening preparations underway, how can this stock be used and what are the likely stock issues?

Firstly, review your stock checking the “use by” and “best before” dates, remember the difference between the two and how they must be handled.

Use by: A use by date on food is about safety. It is the most important date to remember. Food can be eaten until the use by date but not after. You will see use by dates on food that goes off quickly, such as meat products or ready-to-eat salads.

Best before: The best before date, sometimes shown as BBE (best before end), is about quality and not safety. The food will be safe to eat after this date but may not be at its best. Its flavour and texture might not be as good.

Best before dates appear on a wide range of foods including frozen foods, dried foods and tinned foods. The best before date will only be accurate if stored according to the instructions on the packaging.

Once you have established which stock is usable, plan your menu with what you have. Use up the frozen items and your dry store items. Start small and offer the favourites your customers know you for and have missed. Then expand on-demand as business starts to pick up again. Doing this will cut down on waste and, as these items are already paid for, increasing profit. By ramping up the business, you will be able to offer service even with reduced staff.

Contact your suppliers and re-establish your arrangements for both food and chemicals. Make that call and tell them what the offer will be and when you’ll be opening. Let’s remember some of the food items you used to use may not be in stock now, and suppliers also need to plan, so knowing lead times and potential shortages helps.

Think about placing bulk orders for dry and frozen items, just in case these items are in short supply. You don’t want to start with your menu then have to change it a couple of days in, lots of food outlets will order at the same time, remember ‘toilet roll gate’!

When you have your reduced menu in place, and you are happy, make sure your allergen matrix is updated and correct. You may be using different items or brands so things will not be the same; you may have to review this more often than usual until things settle. In all of this, food safety should not be overlooked.

Check that your fridges and freezers are working and if they need servicing. Check dried items for pests, and if your business has been closed, there is also a risk of contamination.

With the proper planning, you can move forward quickly once you have the green light to open. Things will be different, but customers will still get great food safely.

Kindly contributed by Steve Midgley Consulting Development Chef, 30 years experience in fine dinning, creating fantastic experiences at Michelin star restaurants.


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