Three TUCO members opened their doors recently for an access all areas TUCO Study Tour exploring the ins and outs of university catering

One of the highlights of the TUCO Academy is bringing together people working in the same sector at different institutions together. As Helen Davenport, head of conference, events and visitor services at Lancaster University, explains:

“There were a number of highlights for me, not least networking with other university teams - both the fantastic hosts and other delegates themselves. It was clear to see how passionate everyone is about what they do and share best practice.”

Three TUCO members opened their doors recently for an access all areas TUCO Study Tour exploring the ins and outs of university catering

When delegates are asked to provide feedback from a TUCO Academy Study Tour or day course, very often the highlight or biggest take-back will be the opportunity to meet with other TUCO members and share ideas and experiences. The value that members get from visiting each other’s institutions is clear to see, which is why a group of delegates embarked on a three-day tour of three TUCO member universities on the East Midlands Study Tour - Showcasing Customer Excellence.

Loughborough University, University of Leicester and Nottingham Trent University were the three subjects of the tour, whose catering teams guided delegates around the various campuses, detailing everything from feeding athletes to conference catering and exploring the use of technology.

Loughborough University

The first stop on the tour was Loughborough, the largest single-site green campus in the UK, with a strong focus on sports – professional athletes train here, including the England and Wales Cricket Board, as well as those on sports degrees.

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In addition to the state-of-the-art sports facilities, the catering team pay a particular focus to feeding these top athletes. Students are supported in their vocation through the catering, with special menus and information available on how to fuel your body before and after certain sports.

One aspect that drew real interest from delegates was the willingness of head of catering Gagan Kapoor and food and beverage operations manager Debbie Price to implement ideas from their teams. If a member of the catering team has an idea for improving the service, it is trialled and implemented. Not only does this empower and motivate the team, but it can bring in ideas right from the front that management might not have thought of.

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Another innovation is Loughborough’s portion control system. In certain areas, customers are told to pay and take as much food as they want. While this sounds a costly exercise, this is outweighed by the savings on labour.

That evening, the catering team were keen to show off their food offer and showcased their brilliant street food concepts. It was a great evening of networking, as members from the faculty, students’ union and marketing department came along to speak to delegates and answer any questions about the university and its operations.

Delegates also got the chance to hear from Loughborough’s events team, Imago Venues. Not only is the branding separate to the university, but the whole operation runs independently, making the most of its vast facilities and is able to run a busy events and conferencing business to external clients. Core ingredients and products are the same across conferencing and residential catering, however, although menus are different. This has put a stop to buying in multiple products and is helping to keep food waste down.

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University of Leicester

A new day and a new university, as the team headed off to the University of Leicester. Here, delegates were fascinated by the new catering partnership between the university and the students’ union, a completely unique operation that could well be implemented elsewhere in the country.

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Here for U was created in May 2017 to deliver a consistent customer service experience as well as providing inspirational spaces to eat, drink, relax, reflect, learn and socialise. It is the visual brand at the heart of Leicester Services Partnership and aims to put its customers at the forefront of all that it does by providing fresh, sustainable and local foods (where possible), professional and friendly service and engaging spaces for all staff, students and visitors.

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While the University of Leicester has a majority stake in Leicester Services Partnership, it is minimal and the executive board is evenly split, with an independent CEO overseeing the operation.

It was refreshing to hear of a successful relationship between the two institutions that takes the right approach with the customer at its heart.

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Nottingham Trent University

The final day of the Study Tour brought the Academy delegates to Nottingham Trent University, or NTU, where the catering team showed the scale of catering and how sustainability is at its heart.

Sustainability is a real focus at NTU and for three years running it has been placed third in the People & Planet University League. It was one of the first universities to gain a Food for Life Catering Mark (now known as Food for Life Served Here), which it still retains.

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Delegates could see the challenges of catering across multiple campuses and even got a tour of the students’ union in the city centre, with which NTU retains a good relationship.

Other interesting projects going on at NTU include a herb garden for use by the kitchen, a regularly changing pop-up concept in the refectory, and cost efficiencies with updates to the front of house areas while keeping back of house in its current use.

“We saw a good variety of universities and concepts which will help future changes here at Lancaster University,” said Helen Davenport, head of conference, events and visitor services at Lancaster University.

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There were lots of little ideas that Helen and others picked up during their three-day experience.

“From a practical point of view, I’ve come away wanting to change our uniforms and review the use of mobile technology to support our ongoing allergen education programme,” says Helen.

“I learned lots of aspects of how delivered catering is run, menus, cost savings and pop-up food ideas,” adds Jill Walker from the University of Nottingham. “I feel really excited and positive about what ideas I can bring to my university.”

Following the success of the tour to the East Midlands, the TUCO Academy will be looking to run more university Study Tours. Look out for more information at

"To be able to compare all three campuses was fantastic. [I] Loved seeing other campuses and teams. I have lots to bring back to the different teams, it is great to be able to see what other people are doing in your own sector."

– Delegate from Leeds Beckett University

"The other Universities we visited had some similar outlets so it was interesting to see how they operated and make comparisons.I will use lots of the things I saw on the tour we took lots of photo's of any good ideas, and will hopefully be implementing them. This was my first study tour and I didn't know what to expect but I was very impressed with the whole experience it was very informative."

– Delegate from Cardiff Met University

"I have shared information learned with my Team, showed pictures to see how other Universities do the same job - all have found this really interesting."

– Delegate from University of Nottingham

"Really well organised and helpful in finding new ideas and ways to improve what we do."

– Delegate from Lancaster University