The Caterer

Two endings and some unfinished business

13 December 2001 by
Two endings and some unfinished business

Not only is this my last diary, but it's also my last day as head of catering for John Lewis. Time has flown by. Looking back, I am staggered to recall, in my eight-and-a-half years with the partnership, the team and I have opened 20 new customer restaurants and eight dining rooms and "made over" 12 restaurants.

Many years of planning and hard work goes into getting one of these operations up and running successfully on day one, and I can honestly say that we've never had a failure - even when the gantries above the hot food counters fell down like a pack of cards at John Lewis Cheadle the night before we opened.

This week is also special for one other reason: the teams managing the customer restaurants achieved a milestone, taking more sales in one week than they have ever done in the past.

Most of this past month has been spent clearing my desk and completing projects ready for my successor to start afresh.

However, there is one piece of work I am going to fail to finish: convincing our catering managers to move towards using more nominated suppliers. Although our business does not merit total use of nominated suppliers - in fact, we actively encourage managers to source fruit, vegetables and bakery items locally - it does make sense for goods that all branches use in quantity.

Not only does this relieve the manager from specialist auditing, negotiating terms and checking quality, but it obviously improves our into-unit price in all branches.

Interestingly, as I was handing my partnership books back, one of them fell open at page 135 (for those partnership catering managers who read this diary). Here, the founder, John Spedan Lewis, detailed why it was often important to buy in bulk. He wrote that it was "the difference between dabbling and massive operation".

Worth thinking about?

I have managed to make a last visit to a number of branches. I would have loved to have visited every branch, but that was not to be. So I will say farewell to all my partnership colleagues through this column. I take a lot of very happy memories with me.

It is always nice when somebody you have never met - and this happened in one of our new restaurants recently - comes up to you and says: "Are you Caroline Mortimer? I always read your diary." It makes it all worthwhile.

Caroline Mortimer is general manager, catering, for the John Lewis Partnership

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