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As students and staff return to further education campuses after the pandemic, catering teams are wrestling with how to re-engage and build back demand.

At St Mary’s University in Twickenham, a recent “Reconnect Week”, jointly planned by the universities’ catering team lead by St Mary’s catering manager Nik Santos and Pelican’s Client Procurement Manager Bal Mahal, has proved highly successful in reminding students of the on-campus facilities, as well as reinvigorating the in-house team, and showcasing the latest foodservice innovations.

The move also reflects a significant investment the university is making, in upgrading its food and drink offer. The team is working with Pelican on a number of improvements to create a cafe & bar that will encourage students to stay longer and enjoy the space, as well as generate more income.  

“This year, we challenged ourselves to do something new and work hard to put hospitality to the fore. We had a whole year of students who hadn’t had a freshers experience,” said Nik.

Both local and national food suppliers were encouraged to book demonstration slots, taking space to present their offerings and new dishes for students and staff to taste. These included local supplier Gusto snacks, set up by a former student, as well as Delice de France, whose development chef wowed with his extensive knowledge and interaction with students.

Innovative breads presented by Delice de France

Among pop-ups external to the refectory was the Vegan Fried Chicken mobile unit, which was among several well-received additions, reflecting a growing interest from students in vegan options, and in food provenance.  

Bal confirms “I had three weeks to pull the five-day event together. “I was really impressed by the effort suppliers made, bringing in development chefs and providing goody bags for the students.

The event was timed to coincide with a menu relaunch, allowing the university’s chef to promote new menu items, and get valuable feedback. It became clear that some suppliers’ sampled products would be worth adding to the menu.

Sample smoothies from Innocent

“The idea of Reconnect Week combined with promotions and having mobile food service units outside was well received by both students and staff. As we don’t have any other food outlets close by, for us it’s about building the engagement. Pelican is supporting us to rework the refectory space into a cafe and bar, creating a social space that includes a large screen TV for showing sporting events,”  said Nik.

Bal adds, “Suppliers are providing input and helping to design new menu offerings,” said Bal, and we’ve moved away from Starbucks, replacing them with Tchibo – we’re also introducing a wine selection.”

It was a very good way to relaunch our service offering with students. I’m grateful to Pelican for organising the Reconnect Week at such short notice. It was a real success story and we are keen to repeat it on a regular basis. We want to innovate, and keep being creative,” said Nik.

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