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Turning to In-House Catering: A Strategic Move for Private Schools Amidst Potential VAT Legislation

Potential VAT on tuition fees could create challenges for UK private schools. Find out how transitioning to in-house catering can save costs, improve food quality, and enhance efficiency, making it a strategic necessity.

Tuesday, June 18, 2024

As private schools in the UK prepare for the potential addition of VAT to tuition fees if Labour wins the 2024 general election, the financial landscape for private education is poised for significant change. 

Could in-house catering be the strategic move that not only mitigates the negative effects of VAT for private schools but also transforms your school’s operational efficiency and community satisfaction?


Many institutions are already reevaluating their outsourced contracts due to several economic and social forces. With an eye on sustainability and cost-efficiency, bringing catering services in-house is emerging as a viable strategy. 

With the possibility of facing these financial adjustments, let’s delve deeper into why this shift towards in-house catering is not just a necessity but a strategic advantage in more ways than one.

Why Change Is on the Horizon

The prospect of VAT on tuition fees isn't just a financial hurdle; it's a call to rethink how private schools operate on a fundamental level.

Traditionally, many private schools have outsourced their catering needs, leaning on external companies to manage the complexities of feeding their students.

However, with the VAT costs, schools may no longer find that these often costly contracts are commercially viable.

As we peel back the layers of this complex decision, several compelling reasons emerge for schools to bring their catering services in-house.

The Drive Towards In-House Catering

By bringing catering services in-house, schools can reduce the hefty markups charged by external caterers. 

This move isn't just about saving money; it's about controlling food quality, customisation, and waste management, which can significantly reduce costs and boost student satisfaction.

As schools consider bringing their catering services in-house, various internal and external factors play a pivotal role in influencing this decision. Here's a breakdown of the major drivers pushing schools to adopt in-house catering.

Financial Pressures and Cost Reduction

Among potential new VAT regulations, inflation and declining student enrollment, private schools are experiencing increasing operational costs and shrinking profit margins. Schools can significantly lower their catering costs by eliminating third-party markups and controlling procurement directly.

While financial benefits provide a strong incentive, the advantages extend beyond mere cost savings to significantly enhance the dining experience.

Quality Control and Customisation

Direct control over catering allows schools to:

  • Ensure the use of high-quality ingredients and preparation methods.
  • Customize menus to meet specific dietary needs and preferences.
  • Significantly improve satisfaction among students, their parents and carers, and staff.

Beyond the plates served, in-house catering also offers schools the agility needed to respond swiftly to evolving student needs and preferences.

Operational Flexibility

In-house operations allow schools to quickly adapt their food services to changing student needs and external conditions without consulting with or waiting for external caterers.

Recognising these operational enhancements, it becomes essential to also consider the financial groundwork and strategic planning necessary to sustain these benefits.

Financial Viability and Cost Management

Many of the forces and trends that make it less viable for private educational schools to operate more financially efficiently are likely to be long-term events. 

Setting up an in-house catering department is an investment in the future. It's important to remember this, as the initial investment in both time and financial resources can be significant. 

Catering services should be seen as an asset. Beyond those advantages already discussed, catering opens up new revenue streams. Schools can provide venue services that will benefit the local community and help increase awareness of the school's facilities for both educational and entertainment purposes.

Evaluating the commercial viability of setting up an in-house catering team will involve many factors. Below, we've detailed the core three operational and financial challenges to consider.

1. Cost Analysis: It is crucial to examine the financial implications. The initial step involves a comprehensive analysis of all associated costs, from procurement to equipment investment. Schools can access better pricing and ensure compliance with UK procurement regulations by engaging with procurement consultants, which specialise in negotiating food product deals for educational institutions.

2. Equipment and Branding: Transitioning means replacing or upgrading kitchen equipment and rebranding dining facilities. A thorough assessment of current assets and future needs will guide this process, ensuring that capital investments are made wisely.

3. Staffing Considerations: In-house catering involves the responsibility for all associated staffing costs, including training, uniforms, and pensions. Understanding these costs upfront will allow schools to make informed decisions about the structure and scale of their new in-house operations.

Despite these hurdles, the path forward is made smoother with the right technological support. Here is where solutions like Kafoodle play a pivotal role.

The Role of Technology and Expertise

As we've just highlighted, transitioning to in-house catering is not without its challenges. It requires a robust setup, from kitchen infrastructure to staff training and compliance with food safety regulations.

This is where Kafoodle steps in—a tech solution that simplifies this transition by offering comprehensive support in several key areas:

Be Compliant

Compliance Made Easy: Kafoodle can help schools navigate the constantly changing list of food safety laws, including Natasha's Law, which mandates full ingredient and allergen labelling. Kafoodle ensures that every dish served is delicious and fully compliant with UK legislation.

Food Labels: Grab-and-go ranges are becoming increasingly popular and require compliant food labels in specific formats. Kafoodle uses recipes and ingredient data to provide ready-to-print compliant food label templates automatically.

Improved Customer Experience

Recipe Cost Optimisation: With an eye on nutrition and budget, Kafoodle aids schools in developing cost-effective yet nutritious recipes, ensuring that meals contribute positively to students' health and well-being.

Digital Menus: Accessible to students, staff and parents. Digital menus provide extensive recipe information to enhance safety during food selection. 

Streamlined Operational Cost Savings

Menu Management: Kafoodle's technology streamlines menu planning and rotation, adjusting to seasonal availability and cost fluctuations, which helps schools avoid redundancy and reduce waste.

Stock and Rrdering: Among the most significant challenges functioning in-house catering teams face, Kafoodle integrates with ingredient supplier portals to streamline ordering and monitor stock.

Kafoodle’s results in schools

Kafoodle has proven effective in helping schools with in-house catering operations; the onboarding and support team also has a wealth of experience providing solutions to educational institutions of all sizes. 

The Constellation Trust uses Kafoodle's recipe and menu management software to streamline allergen and nutritional data handling, improving safety and consistency across their schools. Using Kafoodle's digital menu feature, The Trust enhanced menu accessibility for pupils and parents, ensuring dietary needs are met efficiently and effectively.

Read the full case study

The Bishop Wilkinson Catholic Education Trust installed Kafoodle's digital menu system to manage complex food service needs across over 20 schools. This system enhances safety by providing live updates for allergens and nutritional information, allowing personalised meal planning to accommodate dietary restrictions and preferences.

Read the full case study

Dulwich College adopted Kafoodle to streamline its catering processes, focusing on allergen compliance, efficient menu management, and pandemic-responsive pre-ordering systems. This digital shift improved menu accessibility, enhanced data tracking, and significantly eased the burden of menu updates and allergen management, ensuring safety and convenience for staff, students, and parents.

Read the full case study

Downing College at the University of Cambridge uses Kafoodle to automate its catering operations. The system manages around 1,000 recipes and ensures compliance with food safety laws. It provides real-time updates for allergens, nutrition, and food costs, significantly enhancing kitchen efficiency, safety, and cost management while ensuring menu accuracy for students and staff.

Read the full case study

With these technological advancements at our disposal, let us now reflect on how they collectively elevate the educational environment and operational efficiency


In the face of potential VAT changes and ongoing economic shifts, the world of private education is evolving, and with it, the strategies for managing school operations must adapt.

By bringing catering in-house, schools can mitigate financial pressures and enhance the quality and personalisation of their services.

The change is by no means small and should be seen as a long-term investment in student and staff satisfaction and financial stability.

Ready to take control of your school’s catering services? 

Discover how Kafoodle can simplify your transition to in-house catering, ensuring compliance, enhancing quality, and driving down costs. Contact us today to see how we can help transform your school’s meal services into a thriving, cost-effective operation. We’re ready to help.

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