This project was started in the Fall of 2017 and continued into the Spring of 2018, to investigate and discuss with the Catering Manager, complaints the PSO was receiving from parents about the cafeteria.

Members: Lindsay Blackburn, Celine Desaedeleer, Tina Gobel, Livia Spinolo, Dema Tabbalat

Meeting: Tuesday 21st November, 2017 – LB, CD, LS and ACS Cobham Catering Manager Chris Owen (“CO”):  To understand challenges, communicate questions

Lunch and Observation: Monday 4th December, 2017 – LB, CD, TG, LS:  To monitor queues, behaviour, observe, taste menu

Meeting and Observation: Friday 16th February, 2018 – LB, CD, LS and CO: To observe, discuss changes and moving forward

Introduction and Aims

The aim of this group was to

  • establish a working relationship with Chris Owen and his team
  • to learn how the Cafeteria operates, its timings, routines, etc,
  • understand its challenges,
  • feed back comments the PSO have received from parents and students over the past year(s).

The group formed to look into the cafeteria following continued concerns and questions from parents and students in feedback documents.  Topics raised in parent feedback included length of queues, quality of food, portion sizes, menu choices, and sources of food. These questions came from all school divisions and can be found in the feedback documents which are posted online in the PSO area of the website.

We had two meetings with Chris Owen, as well as a lunch and observation session.  The notes from each meeting are included as Appendices 1, 2 and 3 at the end of this report.  

The Cafeteria serves breakfast to 150*  boarding staff and students. It provides a mid morning snack at 9.45am to 500* High School students. It serves lunch to 1,500* people.  It provides a mid afternoon snack to boarders, and an evening meal to 150* boarding students and staff.

The weekly menu is the same across the three ACS campuses and is compiled in conjunction with Chris Ingram, ACS Catering Director (manages catering for all three schools) and the three campus head chefs, (Chris Owen at ACS).  The overall menu changes every eight weeks, it is rotated weekly, and the same weeks are repeated twice in the eight week cycle. The food meets high nutritional standards, is balanced with the correct amount of added salt, and sugar and is ethically sourced as detailed below.  The vast majority of the food is homemade on site from scratch. Everything is traceable back to the farm and the original animal via barcodes. It complies to all best practice and current health and safety guidelines. The cafeteria’s guideline is to run the the Catering business for zero profit (ie cafeteria revenues cover the running costs).

(* numbers are approximate)


In summary we are satisfied that Chris Owen and his team are working hard to provide our students with the best mealtime experience at school that they can.  The improvements to the kitchen and serving area that are planned for the summer holidays (details below) will provide more space, increase the flow and reduce the queueing times for diners. The new Lower School dining hall recently opened has improved the lunch experience significantly for lower school students. We have a list of recommendations at the end of this report.

These are our findings:

Food and Quality

  • All food provided for consumption at school, first and foremost, needs to be traceable for health and safety standards and of the highest quality possible. Much is sourced locally to reduce the carbon footprint and is GM free, MSG free and free from harmful E numbers,
    • Red meat is Red Tractor farm assured, sourced from a local farm, and is organic
    • Chicken and eggs are free range
    • Fish is MSC Certified to ensure it’s sustainable.
  • All pantry and dried goods are provided by Bidfood and Allman Hall suppliers. These suppliers abide with the health and safety guideline.  CO and Chris Ingram order the foods with taste, budget and availability as their primary criteria.
  • The food prepared by CO and his team conforms to Government standards concerning added salt, and sugar. CO is providing many additional healthy choices substituting sugar for honey or adding beetroot to chocolate cake for example.
  • CO and his team provide for all food allergies, intolerances and special diets.  There always vegetarian options, and lighter choices on the menu (which have reductions of salt, fat and sugar).  There are always Gluten Free alternatives, but often students need to ask for these alternatives as they will not be displayed on the counters.  This is to prevent other students who don’t need the GF option from taking them, which would leave the students who genuinely have special requirements without their meals.  CO and his team know the students who need these special foods and usually can offer them before they need to ask. (See the link to the GF report the PSO researched two years ago.  The committee thinks it would be preferable if CO had an exact figure of the number of GF diets, vegetarians and any other special requirements, so a more accurate number of special meals could be cooked each day. [Students with specific requirements need to be encouraged to proactively ask for their special meals.]
  • There is a large choice of hot and cold foods provided every day and most days comprises of a hot menu choice, an alternative light hot choice, and a selection of  jacket potatoes, soup, hot “grab and go” options, sandwiches, salad bar, etc.  There is always a pork alternative and plain carbohydrates alternative for students with different dietary requirements.
  • Most menu items are freshly prepared daily by hand on site , eg sandwiches, boxed salads and fruit, cakes, desserts, cookies; only sushi is bought in ready made.
  • A hot meal consists of the protein dish, along with a carbohydrate, vegetables or salad, and a piece of whole fruit. CO and his team encourage students to make healthy choices by encouraging them to add vegetables for example to their plates.
  • The cafeteria has been awarded with the following quality marks for excellence
    • a Gold certification on “Eat out, Eat Well” ,
    • a Silver award in “Food for Life” (working towards gold),
    • a 5 star Hygiene rating awarded from the Environmental Health Officer. More information can be found on the ACS catering web page
  • The committee is very impressed with the wide range of foods offered, the time and attention CO gives to providing healthy, balanced meals using a variety of fresh and healthy ingredients. The display looked excellent and also tasted delicious.


  • There is a main Dining Hall, and a new (Jan ‘18) Lower School Dining Room.
  • The Main Dining Hall has two separate areas. There is a small area sectioned off by red boards which used to be used for Lower School students. Given the new LS dining hall, this area is now used for staff and HS students arriving early (>5% of HS students are now eating before their allocated time thanks to this extra space). There is a second larger area used for the main seatings.  In general, the dining areas are pleasant, spacious, light, clean.  They have rectangular tables, arranged in long rows, with benches that sit 6.  There are three water dispensers situated in the corners. Waste and recycling bins and seasoning and salad dressing stations are available near to the tills.  The committee found it noisy when it’s full of Middle School students. It would be helpful to review options to reduce the noise during this coming Summer’s refurbishment as this is the main issue found with the dining environment
  • The Lower School Dining Hall is near to the LS playground (beautiful view) and will be very near to the LS Village once it opens.  It is light, spacious, has small tables with attached stools and age-appropriate trays, cutlery, cups and bins. The food is brought down from the main kitchen in state of the art hot trolleys and served by staff members. It is a much better environment than before for LS students with less noise and more space.

Queuing time and logistics in the Food Court

  • Before the Lower School Dining Hall opened in January 2018, long queues were observed in the foyer and in the Glass Corridor while the first sitting of High School students waited for the Middle School students to finish and vacate the tables, and the lunchtime assistants clean them.  However, since the Lower School Dining Hall has been opened, the Middle school students have longer to eat their lunch and the High School students can start filling up the first spaces early by utilising the space which the LS students used to occupy. The Middle School students had longer to eat as they weren’t so rushed to vacate their spaces at the tables for the High School students. Teacher monitors help them to fill up the tables by rows and help them to leave row by row.
  • Bottlenecks were observed in the Food Court area.  This is because the hot food serving stations are too close together.  There isn’t enough space for students to move past these queues to move on to the salad bar, deli bar and tills at busy times.  It is also difficult for students to turn round and move against the flow if they decide to go back for an item they have missed, or if they have changed their mind on a food choice.  This will be rectified as CO has worked with kitchen designers to redesign the Food Court area. This is a considerable expenditure to improve the flow and design of the Food Court. Over the summer, work will be carried out in the Food Court to make it larger, to redesign the hot food serving areas, to redesign the salad bar and deli bar serving counters to allow for more students to serve themselves at the same time.  The committee looks forward to visiting in September 2018 to see the improvements.


  • The committee observed (and this was confirmed by CO) that many High School students were taking take-away boxes rather than plates on trays.  The reasons for this are,
    • convenience as the student is taking the food out of the cafeteria,
    • preference over the tray as the tray is more awkward to carry and doesn’t easily fit on the table when the table is full of students
    • habit.

CO and the committee would prefer if less takeaway boxes were used (particularly in the winter when students don’t want to eat outside), even though these are compostable.  The takeaway boxes do not fit an entire food serving in, and do not allow for salad and vegetables, so students that take these boxes are missing out on a full portion/meal and missing out on the healthier portions of the meal.

  • CO is working towards achieving a reduction in the sale of single use water bottles.  He is promoting the use of the water dispensers that are situated around the edges of the Dining Hall.  He has introduced milk dispensers to eliminate the plastic milk bottles sold (previously 2,000 per week). The committee asked about having water jugs and cups on the table, but this is not a viable idea currently mainly due to hygiene concerns. We will follow up on how this reduction is working in due course.
  • The cafeteria works with the school to reduce waste and recycle. What can’t be recycled is incinerated for fuel. A large amount of food waste is composted and all cardboard is recycled. Biodegradable disposable packaging is used for packaged food and biodegradable disposable cutlery. There is no general waste.


  • Chris Owen is the Catering Manager for ACS Cobham.  He is an experienced and talented chef with an interesting background of previous employers (He has an award winning Chocolate Brownie recipe and used to write a regular column in a magazine).  He shows genuine respect and care for the students. He is proactive in pushing forward change to improve the Cafeteria experience for students and staff. Chris Ingram is the Catering Director for ACS Group, and oversees catering provision in all three ACS UK schools.  Chris Owen manages a team of cooks, servers and lunchtime assistants. All staff we met were friendly, courteous and helpful. Most are popular with the students too.
  • The committee has full confidence in CO and his staff.

Signage and Menu Information

  • Chris Owen, Chris Ingram, and the chefs from ACS Hillingdon and Egham meet every 6 weeks to design the new menus with the input of a dietitian. The daily dishes are decided with balance and popularity in mind and also the ability to scale up.  The committee asked if the Country Representative Groups could have some input into deciding which international dishes are served.  CO wasn’t against this, but did explain that bulk cooking and adhering to the strict Government regulations on food, traceability and safety means that a dish cooked for a family isn’t necessarily going to scale up successfully to feed 500/1000 people.
  • The menu rotates weekly and is changed completely every eight weeks.
  • The weekly menus are easily found on the Catering tab of the weekly newsletter.
  • The menus are displayed on TV screens outside the Dining Hall and also inside the Food Court.  The location of these is under review to ensure maximum visibility.
  • CO is working on a pre-ordering system for the Deli Station which would be outside the main entrance of the cafeteria and would allow staff to prepare the dish while the student queues.

Recommendations from the Committee

Quick Fixes

  • Recommend to parents that they monitor their students choices periodically through the Parent Pay system to ensure they know what their students are choosing and also that the billing is correct and there are no overcharges.
  • Servers to serve vegetables to students alongside the hot dish, (not leave students to self-serve).
  • The Olive oil bottle is wiped clean and labelled correctly.
  • Add dessert option to LS Menu
  • Ensure that there is a simple, unseasoned, free-from-sauce carbohydrate option on the menu daily, and diners who need this food are made aware of it.

Longer Term Actions

  • Promote communication between CO and parents
    • through newsletter, Parent Information meetings, website.
    • through the introduction of a Mystery Diner scheme
    • through other promotions of the Cafeteria, maybe a regular parent tasting lunch and walk through of the cafeteria?
    • menus for breakfasts and dinners for Boarding students to be made available on catering website too.
  • Promote communication between CO and students
    • through video interview and 360 virtual tour of kitchen with CO and students,
    • through providing a short tour of kitchen in Advisory time and discussion of sustainability, efficiency, etc,
    • through reminding students to use the Suggestions Board and box to provide feedback
    • through promoting and extending the fantastic cooking classes CO runs for students (High School and Middle School.)
  • Promote communication between the cafeteria and Boarding students’ parents via PSO role
  • Establish regular communication between CO and CRG PSO group to liaise over international recipes
  • Promote the involvement and communication between CO and teaching staff to help promote healthy eating in the cafeteria (already done very well in the curriculum in some grades) and sustainability issues, (reduction in takeaway boxes and plastic single use water bottles) during health classes or advisory time.
  • Promote the special, seasonal dishes on the menu for celebrations such as Chinese New Year more widely, and explore opportunities for new celebration dishes with our international community.
  • CO to use the information gathered about special dietary requests from the Forms Online process more effectively. He could communicate to the parents via email to explain the different procedures for students ie that they need to ask specifically for gluten-free foods put aside and also for the meat alternatives to pork.
  • Continue to review sustainability and ways to reduce waste.
  • Determine if there is a more accurate way to keep track of number and type of food / meals sold every day (without increasing time spent at tills), perhaps through a more efficient IT solution, to have a more accurate idea of popular and less popular meals
  • Could the cafeteria be open daily from 3.30pm – 4.00pm for HS and MS students to purchase snacks if they are going to clubs and sports, eg bananas, granola bars, healthy crisps and bagged popcorn, etc?
  • Encourage students to drink from the dispensers and and fill up their bottles from the dispenser in the lobby area outside the Dining Hall while they are waiting, thereby reducing the amount of single-use plastic water bottles sold. Research why Middle and High School students aren’t using their reusable water bottles more.