Contract Catering

Uncharted territory and a man with Compass

As the Institute of Hospitality Annual Lunch concluded, we had an opportunity to mingle for a few minutes and I have to thank my friend Melvin Gold FIH (a fine Hotel Consultant who can be contacted here for the best of industry advice. You’re welcome Melvin.) for calling me over to introduce someone he thought I should meet. Knowing I work within Foodservice Catering, he must have enjoyed the look on my face as I found myself shaking hands with Ian Sarson, the Group MD of Compass UK & Ireland. 

Ian Sarson, MD, Compass UK & IRE
Now, for anyone reading this who may be unfamiliar with our industry, Compass is the largest Foodservice Caterer in the UK employing 50,000 people in the sector today. Globally speaking, Compass is the 11th largest employer in the world. So needless to say, I was chuffed at the opportunity to meet and chat with one of the key leaders within our industry.

We talked about the challenges we faced along the way as he mentioned the Disney contract he oversaw many years ago in Hong Kong around the time I was opening my operation in Kathmandu. Coming back to the challenges of today, I thought it was funny, in an ironic way, that we both stood looking at the same crossroads. The road to contract catering Nirvana was traditionally found on the highway of client satisfaction. Now the industry faces a left turn towards retail and direct customer appeal and a right turn off the beaten track towards social media engagement between employees, customers, clients and stakeholders. Suddenly size is not the advantage it used to be and there are certainly no shortcuts.

But here’s the great thing about hospitality and events such as this. Rather than a stilted conversation with no common ground, we both talked about starting out as chefs in the business and how important it was to understand the fundamentals of your craft if you are to progress up the ladder. With a little hard work and perhaps a pinch of luck, the opportunity is there to progress to the very highest levels. This is an industry that rewards the go-getters from every walk of life and Ian Sarson exemplifies this.

Whichever respective roads we take, it was certainly a pleasure to meet Mr. Sarson along this one and I thank him for being so generous with his time. On occasions like this, you can just go along for the lunch, but it’s better to come away with some great food for thought.

Shared Excellency, Springboard Ambassadors

Over the last few months, I have been mulling over how best to use my talent and passion for this industry to somehow 'give something back'. After sounding out some ideas, I was delighted to get an email saying that BaxterStorey was committed to recruiting a number of Springboard Ambassadors from within our business across the UK who could support some initiatives such as National Waiters Day and spread the word about what we do best and the Hospitality sector in general. That seemed like just the ticket for me and promptly signed up for the two days training on offer.
Springboard Ambassadors: (L-R) Scott, Cynthia, Renaud, Joanna, Ewa, Hannah, Kevin, David

Finally, on Tuesday morning we arrived at the gorgeous Blue Fin Building in Southwark. I guess one of the advantages of catering for some of the most prestigious companies in the UK is that you get to visit some stunning venues for your meetings and training. It was great to catch up with my friend (and fellow alumni from the Leadership Academy) Hannah who had travelled down from Nottingham. She's now expecting a baby. Luck girl. Meeting new colleagues within the business is always special and this was no different. Renaud for example was a very suave Frenchman who coaches kid's football on the weekends and David who is a part-time Police Community Support Officer go some way to demonstrating the calibre of professionalism in this roomful of Springboard Ambassadors-in-waiting.

Eventually Eileen, our warm and friendly trainer for the next two days, began the session with two simple questions: Who is our audience? and What effectively 'float's their boat'? If you identify those two aspects at the outset, you will build a very absorbing presentation that will really engage your audience. As Springboard Ambassadors, our target audience groups could be 15 and 16-year-old school children; unemployed people at a job centre; women returning to the world of work or perhaps undergraduates in their final year of college. Each group will be looking for different motivators. For example, friendship and feeling valued will appeal to women returning to work (very much part of our ethos by the way), whereas the potential to meet or look after celebrities might appeal to school leavers. (Some might laugh at that idea, but I still find that to be a huge attraction within this industry and was very honoured to be looking after the Prime Minister a couple of weeks ago.)

During that first day, we had to make a five minute presentation to the group with Eileen giving us feedback, encouragement and guidance on areas of improvement. It was amazing to see nine totally different presentations based around just one set of audience/objectives criteria. Then we were given the dreaded homework: our task was to put together a ten minute presentation aimed at a different sector to be delivered to the group on Day Two. I don't like commuting if I can help it, but on this occasion I was happy to work on my slide deck during the two hour bus ride home and and again on the way back in the next morning. By the time I arrived back in that room, I felt I had something reasonably presentable.

One by one, my colleagues got up and made hugely compelling presentations that reminded me time and again of all the good things we do as a company and what our industry has to offer on the whole. Kevin for example described how he had considered being a van driver when he was leaving school, but his father counceled against it with the immortal phrase: You've heard people say; 'He's a great Chef', but who's ever said; 'He's a great van driver!'?

With this in mind, Kevin went on to catering college, but found he preferred the role of Waiter instead of cooking. Working his way up the career ladder, he now looks after the Executive Dining Rooms within the headquarters of a very large bank. And then Kevin said something very powerful.... "When the Chief Executive of the Bank is sitting down to lunch, he needs to present an image of responsibility and care on behalf of the Bank. Therefore the manner in which the lunch is served must reflect that. During those few minutes, the waiter presents the image the bank wants to convey to those guests. Professional and caring." Now that carries a lot of responsibility.

Eventually, we finished up our course and set off back home with aspirations of encouraging lots of new people to join our great sector. My enduring thought for anyone considering a career in Hospitality, is to remember Kevin's story. He chose to be a Waiter who delivers a great guest experience every day instead of just a van driver who simply makes deliveries. That's a journey worth taking.

If you want to get involved in volunteering as a Springboard Ambassador, contact Kerry Mabbley, Head of Ambassadors at Springboard UK on 07916 758775 or email her: