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In this article Lesley Byatt, Head of Catering Manager at Newcastle-under-Lyme School,  talks about how technology has dramatically transformed their catering operation. Lesley now can see what is being spent and where, review menus and the nutritional or allergen content of the meals they produce, while at the same time access purchasing reports, stock reports and even an online ordering module.


Newcastle-under-Lyme School is an independent day school in Staffordshire. With a heritage spanning over 140 years, the school today consists of a Nursery, Junior School, Senior School and Sixth Form, serving over 900 students aged from 3-18 years of age.

While the school is proud of its traditions, it is today taking advantage of the latest technologies; not only for the benefit of the students in their learning, but also in creating efficiencies in managing the School’s overall operations.  

One particular department that has embraced new technology is the catering team.

Here we spoke with the Head of Catering, Lesley Byatt, who explains how the use of intelligent cloud-based technology combined with professional procurement support has helped saved the school over £38,000.

“Looking back over the 13 years that I’ve been here at Newcastle-under-Lyme School it’s really interesting to see just how things have changed.  I originally started as a kitchen manager and during that time, the way we manage our purchasing, plus overall management of catering has evolved.

We very much operate the catering service almost as a standalone business operation and there’s a pressure to perform.  For example, we are responsible for meeting pupils’ (and our staff’s) dietary and nutritional needs, we need to meet the quality-led expectations of parents, whilst also meeting our annualised budgets.

Ultimately, I am responsible for overseeing what happens from a catering perspective across our four sites, two kitchens and in managing the 22 staff that make it happen each and every day.

Embracing technology

What is really making the difference is technology: for me, over the last couple of years I’ve really embraced online tools that can support our operations, for a number of reasons.

I work with a professional procurement partner, Pelican, who supports us with our supplier management, product tendering and overall catering procurement requirements, and they introduced us to a system called Pelican Pi.

Before we started using Pi, and all its various modules, everything was manual: we used spreadsheets to manage our stock and would have to manually look for our prices against agreed supplier lists. It was so very laborious!

Every invoice that came through would need to be manually checked.  We’d look on screens to see what price had been agreed and would manually check the invoice to make sure it was present and correct.  When you’re ordering over £300,000 worth of product every year, this is no mean feat. I would estimate that we were spending at least four hours every week just checking prices and updating stock sheets, so the system gives us more time to focus on other key projects. 

We were one of the first independent schools to use the Pelican Pi system. From day one, I could see the benefits; it’s an online system that is hosted in the Cloud – so we don’t have to worry about maintaining the software on our own computers.  It provides a central view of everything related to our supplier purchasing and one log-in gives me live data directly from our suppliers. 

At any one time, I can see what is being spent where, review menus and the nutritional or allergen content of the meals we produce, while at the same time access purchasing reports, stock reports and even an online ordering module. 

One of Pelican’s other services we use is the supplier payment management. The beauty of working this way means that we receive one single statement each month from Pelican, which we can view on Pi. This has already been price checked against the agreed supplier rates, so we don’t have to worry about being overcharged.  How fantastic is that?

Previously, stock taking would take us hours to do – now it’s all there within Pi.  When a new stock check is started the system notifies you if there are any products which are ‘unallocated’ and updates prices automatically, ensuring that stock lists are always kept up to date.

When I first used Pi I thought ‘Wow this amazing; why haven’t we had this before!’.  I can see what’s being ordered, I can check prices, analyse trends and spot best sellers – which out of interest is currently strawberries, bananas and chips!

Likewise processing invoices , I would say we have reduced the time we take managing paperwork down by half – if not more.   The Pi system is very transparent, plus accounts team or I can log in from anywhere, and at any time.

The reporting is invaluable; it enables me to present the real-time status of the catering function to the finance team.  I can also produce financial statements when needed, for example, we have to present figures in order to reclaim our nursery milk expenditure.  With Pi, I can do this very quickly.

Pelican provided us with training for Pi, however it’s very easy to use. It almost speaks for itself.  In fact, some of my kitchen managers hadn’t used a computer before until we started to use Pi, and now they whizz through it and love the ordering system.

Managing suppliers

All the while, Pelican is there as my right hand support.  They are currently undertaking some mini supplier tenders and reviewing price holds for us.  

We’ve moved from using a lot of smaller, expensive suppliers and instead use more national suppliers.  The benefit here is that we don’t have much storage onsite, and so tend to buy fresh and use deliveries the very same day.  Therefore we need to rely on our daily deliveries and the suppliers that Pelican secured for us are able to do this.

I’m a real advocate for working with a procurement partner like Pelican.  They’ve taken us from an operating deficit to profit, and we are now in complete control of our operations, with cost savings to boot.  

The Pelican Pi system has removed so many manual tasks from my daily workload and enables me to better manage our suppliers. It gives me peace of mind that we are receiving the right products, at the right price, when we need them. I guess you could say I’m a bit of a tech enthusiast now!”

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