User Research and Software Development

Fretwell Downing Menu Planner

Fretwell Downing Hospitality logo

Hive IT were approached by Fretwell Downing Hospitality (FDH) to lead the user experience element of a project for one of their clients, ISS (one of the world’s largest facility services providers). Together, Hive IT and FDH designed, developed and built a menu selection and ordering service that enables ISS’s customers to place their orders online. The Menu Planner is a user-centric web application that allows chefs and catering managers to place menu orders with ISS easily and efficiently and has reduced the time taken to place an order by 98%.

the challenge

FDH’s client, ISS, had already developed their own menu selection and ordering solution. The problem: it was an Excel spreadsheet. Although it was tailored to their specific needs, it couldn’t keep up with the high volume of users and orders being placed and was proving difficult to manage and maintain. This caused issues for both ISS employees and their customers.

Although FDH specialise in catering management software, they decided to get Hive IT involved because of our expertise with user experience design. They needed to ensure that ISS’s employees and customers had access to an easy-to-use, user-centric system.

the result

By following a process that put user experience at the forefront of design, we worked collaboratively with FDH’s in-house development team to design and build The Menu Planner. We took the functionality of ISS’s existing Excel spreadsheet and created a new interface that is completely user-centric, allowing chefs and catering managers to use the tool easily and efficiently.  

Because of this new system, the average time taken to complete tasks has been reduced from 3 hours a day to just 3 minutes. That’s a 98% decrease. Not only will this lead to a significant cost saving for ISS and their customers, but also a more engaged and motivated workforce and happier clients.  

task completion
new task completion time
3 minutes
effeciency improved
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The key to this project was collaboration. Because we were working alongside FDH to deliver a product for their client, it was essential that both teams worked together and that communication was slick.

Throughout the project, our UX Analyst collaborated with Project Managers, Software Developers and the FDH Product Owner to make sure that we were all working towards the same goals.

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User Experience Analysis

We began this project by using various user experience tools and techniques to get a deeper understanding of what the users and stakeholders liked and disliked about the existing application. After all, you can’t improve something if you don’t know which bits work and which bits don’t.


We facilitated workshops with FDH and ISS to identify the key issues with the existing system and the objectives and vision for the project.  

face to face interviews

Face to face interviews and discussions with representative users and business stakeholders allowed us to get a deeper understanding of the issues with the current system and visions for the new one.

collaborative sketching

By getting together with FDH and ISS to sketch design ideas, we were able to bring together ideas from every angle. We were able to work together to devise a new information architecture.


Finally, alongside actual users of the system, we created personas. These personas were assets that were utilised throughout the whole development process.

user observation

Following the analysis, we observed users at work and analysed their actions, mistakes, concerns, and the ease of the system.

contextual analysis

We were then able to go on site to Hospitals and RAF bases to conduct a more thorough contextual analysis.  In their own environments (and away from Head Office), users were able to be more open and clearly demonstrate the issues they faced.  We recorded these sessions which allowed for more comprehensive analysis and evidence which could be relayed back to the business.

website prototype


Once we’d conducted the user experience analysis, we produced paper prototypes and wireframes. We discussed our initial designs with FDH and ISS and were then able to move into creating an interactive prototype. This initial working prototype focused on the key user journeys that we’d identified in the analysis. 

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user testing

Once we were all happy with the interactive prototype, we moved into user testing. We went back to the users we’d spoken to in the analysis and asked them to use the working prototype in the context of their own environment.

This exercise allowed us to make refinements on the fly and iterate the prototype based on feedback and observation.  During this process, we were also able to implement changes and suggestions from the end users.

“It has been a pleasure working together on the ISS Menu Planner project. Both the client and I are very happy with the end result. Many thanks for your hard work on this.”

Lee Gibbs
Head of Service Delivery, FDH

software development

Once the project stakeholders and the users were happy with the prototype system, it was time to start the development. Our own software developers and designers work closely with FDH’s in-house back-end development team. We developed a software build framework to facilitate rapid development and communication between the different teams. Using FDH’s software (Saffron) as a base, we built The Menu Planner as a single-page application sitting on top of JSON Web Services. We were able to utilise Saffron’s automation and notification functionality to notify users of events, current and future stock availability, and promotions. This functionality would also enable users to schedule in regular meal cycles which would greatly reduce the manual work involved in creating a menu based on previous popular menus. We then integrated a reporting suite into The Menu Planner, allowing users to quickly and easily generate PDF reports such as daily allergen reports, custom acetate food cards, and shelf labels. The ability to generate these reports within the browser itself (instead of relying on the server to generate them) allowed us to rapidly prototype and enhance the reports whilst sitting alongside the FDH and ISS without the need to rebuild any code.

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the finished product

By following our user experience process and working collaboratively with FDH’s in-house development team, we have created a new interface is that is completely user-centric. It is also able to withstand the high volumes of orders that ISS process every single day.

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