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  • Writer's pictureKelsey Jobalia

York University Student Union, Trading Insight May 2024: c-AI-tering

By Tom Mountain, Director of Commercial Operations and Development published by NUS (National Union of Students) charity


University of York Students’ Union has been taking part in a transformative AI-driven trial with ClearCOGS to improve kitchen management.

Tom Mountain, Director of Commercial Operations and Development shares the results...

Recruitment and retention challenges in the hospitality sector have reached a critical point, evident when the government has to launch an inquiry into high vacancy rates within the sector. Brexit, immigration reform, and the impact of Covid-19 have compounded the crisis, particularly felt with kitchen positions, where head chef shortages have surged to 10% and production chefs to 21%. Consequently, higher wages prevail, with the average chef earning £34,800 annually.

In the students’ union (SU) catering sector, affordability becomes increasingly elusive, especially with an economy spanning only 33 weeks of the financial year. To adapt, we’ve reshaped our catering model, simplifying menus, reducing kitchen skill requirements, and eliminating full- time chefs. Despite the abundance of enthusiastic student employment seekers, the lack of experience has led to a significant drain in catering expertise.

One major issue stemming from this is order and preparation efficiency, resulting in substantial waste due to a lack of experience-based knowledge and fluctuating trade pat- terns. To tackle this challenge, we embarked on a ten-week trial with ClearCOGS, a data-driven forecast tool utilizing AI to predict preparation levels and operational demands.

The trial focused on our coffee shop, Kitchen @ Alcuin, known for selling short-shelf-life items like pastries and low-shelf-life items such as sandwiches and salads. The goal was to minimize leftover products by optimizing prepa- ration processes. By integrating the AI-driven system with till data, we entered a learning phase to analyse patterns and refine recommendations.

Over the course of the initial weeks, our system underwent significant evolution through analysis of transactional data, menu preferences, and inventory levels. Collaborating closely with ClearCOGS, we tailored reports and fine-tuned accuracy and by the fourth week, we began to see changes to our waste levels. Waste decreased by 44.12% compared to the preceding week, marking the beginning of a trend with subsequent weeks showing reductions of 15.96% and 11.72% respectively.

During the first six weeks, we recorded 330 wasted items, averaging 55 per week, with a value of £343.86 (£57.31per week). However, over the following four weeks, this significantly improved, with only 60 wasted items, averaging 15 per week, and a reduced value of £50.31 (£12.58 per week). These savings, especially considering the low-cost and simple prep nature of our items, hold significance and suggest potential for greater savings in more labour-intensive venues.

This trial demonstrates the transformative potential of AI-driven solutions in SU kitchen management. By aligning AI technology with till data, we’ve not only minimized wast- age but also enhanced operational efficiency. The tangible reduction in waste and associated costs underscores the benefits of such technology in the SU sector. As SU financial pressures persist, it’s crucial to adapt and leverage technological advancements to meet these challenges head-on.

If you’d like to chat with Tom about the trial, drop him a line at or click here to speak with a ClearCOGS team member, and find a solution that’s right for your brand.

Original Article published in NUS charity Trading Insights May 2024



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