EXCLUSIVE: Care UK hospitality chief offers food for thought

Care UK Food and Services Director Jon Bicknell tells CHP that constant innovation and the drive to always do better is what drives him.

“We are on a journey of improvement,” Jon told me when we met at Care UK’s soon-to-be opened Snowdrop House in Ware, Hertfordshire.

Jon’s raison d’être is to permanently strive to provide a better dining experience for Care UK’s residents.

Having been brought up in a care home in the 70s in his family’s business, Jon went on to pursue a successful 20-year career in the hospitality sector leading food development and procurement with big brands within  Allied Domecq and Punch.

Having joined Care UK three years ago, Jon has used his experience to develop new standards of excellence in hospitality within the group.

“When I came back to the sector, there was still plenty of home cooking going on in Care UK homes but I wanted to make sure that our focus was even more on fresh food cooked from scratch,” Jon said.

Jon is also a big advocate of locally sourced produce with over 30 suppliers delivering fresh meat, fish, fruit and vegetables to its 113 homes.

“It used to be the same in the hospitality sector years ago but not anymore,” he said.

Jon has raised the bar at Care UK through implementing his Dining with Dignity initiative.

Dining with Dignity is focused on improving the meal time experience for residents by introducing innovations in everything from food procurement, catering equipment, cutlery and tableware to attracting the best chefs.

His search for constant improvement has led him to scour the country for the latest innovations in cutlery and tableware.

Bespoke cutlery and crockery, including blue coloured plates for people with visual impairment, have been purchased from Churchill in Stoke-on-Trent.

Jon said food consumption across the group’s homes leaped by 7% in the first three months following the adoption of the new-style plates.

Crockery innovations also include deeper plates designed to prevent spillages and make food easier to eat whilst dispensing with the need for the plastic plate guards seen in so many care homes and medical settings.

The freshest produce is purchased through wholesaler Brakes along with 32 local fruit and vegetable suppliers.

In the kitchen, Care UK boasts state of the art Rational cookers. Jon swears by kitchen innovations such as the Rieber Cook & Hold which prepares and keeps food fresh until it is ready to serve. The Vorwerk Thermomix is another essential innovation in helping to prepare tasty food and sauces to the right texture to aid with swallowingfor residents with conditions like dysphagia.

In the dining areas, Victor serving units help residents who are unsure of what meals to choose by displaying menu options.

Jon and his team of chefs review care plans to ensure that fortified meals are served to people at risk of weight loss.

A la carte seasonal menus incorporate personal likes and dislikes on a three week rota introduced by Jon.

Jon and his team carry out regular training visits to ensure that homes are maintaining the best possible meal time experience.

His attention to detail runs to providing the best linen tableware and napkins provided by Whitakers.

“You will never see any plastic tablecloths in our homes,” Jon said.

Tackling odours and maintaining cleanliness is also a key part of Jon’s role.

“I wanted to introduce the ‘Lenor Comfort effect’ into our homes when I joined by ensuring we provide the best quality, freshest smelling bed linen and clothing,” Jon told us.

Jon said introducing 2 Pure Hygiene’s OdorBac spray had worked wonders in tackling odors at some homes where despite continuous and conscientious cleaning, smells had previously lingered.

Jon’s infectious enthusiasm and dedication to do better has had a tangible effect on customer satisfaction levels which have climbed from the lower 7s out of 10 to above  8, since he joined the business.

“We have great suppliers, we have really invested in training our people and always add further value so we can always keep improving,” Jon commented.