A matter of taste

25 January 2002 by
A matter of taste

Caroline Fry, 33, contract caterer Charlton House's operations director, ensures her clients get the quality they want by making sure she has tasted it all first.

My day starts at 6am when I walk our three pets, a Labrador, an Alsatian and a 10-stone Pyrenean mountain dog, then it's back home for my first breakfast of the morning: toast, tea and marmalade.

I check e-mails and then set off for work around 7-8am, depending on how far I have to travel that day. With 85 contracts spread from Manchester to London, it can be anything between 100 and 200 miles.

I'm at my first site by about 8am, checking the food and service. I'm very much a hands-on person - you can't check standards from behind a desk.

I walk around the site with the catering manager, suggesting how we can improve things and asking for their input. Perhaps the presentation of the food needs looking at or a new marketing initiative explored. Often we develop a good idea and see how we can wash it through the rest of the company.

Next, it's time for my second breakfast - full English, usually. I'm a fiend with food. I'm 6ft tall and never put on weight, which drives people mad, although I'm pregnant at the moment, which changes things a bit.

Around 9am I meet with the client and operations manager to discuss financial performance and any suggestions on how to improve our services. Charlton House holds these meetings monthly and I attend every quarter.

At 10.30am I'm at another site talking to Meeta Patel, our recruitment manager. Attracting and keeping good people is a big challenge. I've always believed in leading by example and being interested in our staff, and that's why we have things like Employee of the Year, and Unit of the Year awards.

Twelve o'clock signals the beginning of the lunch service. I work my way along the servery sampling everything - someone's got to do it and it allows me to give some feedback to the chefs.

Around 1pm, I arrive at the next site to see the lunch service there - more food tasting! Then at 1.30pm I meet up with Alan Barnett, health and safety manager, and Jo Cowan, our new training and development manager. Support services have become very important as we've grown larger, but I'm still not used to it.

When I first arrived at Charlton House as operations manager in 1994 I did everything myself, from payroll to support services, so that Robyn Jones (our chief executive) was free to grow the company. At the same time, we continually reviewed the structure until I was made an operations director in 1998.

Now I have Paul Honey, my divisional director, reporting to me as well as support services. I've found it a challenge to step back each time I've moved up. But as Robyn said once, "you can't see every lunch, every day, in every unit."

From 4pm to 5.30pm I chair the monthly meeting of the Chef's Forum, although not for much longer as we've just taken on our first food innovation director, David Cavalier, to head up this team. We recently held our first Salon Culinaire. I can't stress enough the importance of chefs having passion and pride in providing consistently innovative, well presented food.

I get home between 6.30pm and 8.30pm and relax by gardening or watching TV soaps. It helps me switch off totally. I love any medical dramas too, which is ironic as I can't stand the sight of blood. Bedtime is usually between 10pm and 11pm.

Just a minute…

What has been your biggest challenge?
Keeping the same values and personal approach to the company with 85 contracts as we had with five.

What would like to say to Tony Blair? I'd like teachers to be given more authority and control in the classroom. It drives me mad that children have so little respect.

What is your favourite restaurant? I love Chinese food, so it would be the Jasmine, Maidenhead. I also like the Square in Grosvenor Square, London.

Who would be your favourite dinner guests? Richard Branson for interest and George Clooney for fun.

Charlton House Catering

The Clock Tower, Wyfold Farm, Wyfold, Reading RG4 9HU
Tel: 01491 683400www.charltonhouse.co.uk

Contracts: 85
Staff: 800
Turnover: £27m

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