Another great day for the men in grey
After nearly 25 years in our industry I applaud Peter Walters's letter ("Don't give in to the grey suits", 2 January). I have worked in most aspects of the business, including a period as a hotel general manager, before returning to the department I love most - the kitchen.
The establishment in which I now ply my trade is one of 140 branded outlets, which all sounds extremely boring. But I have an understanding manager who has given me a free hand for "specials".
I can produce three starters and at least six main courses. I do the costings, I work out portion control and very rarely do our "specials" reach their sell-by date. They all make a minimum 70% gross profit.
In November our "grey suited" brethren at HQ asked for our Christmas order - to ensure supplies and delivery from a large distribution company. Our final delivery for Christmas Day arrived on Christmas Eve, minus plaice fillets for the Christmas Day fish course, king prawns for starters and cheesecake for sweet.
I pointed this out to the manager. He turned a wonderful shade of crimson and stormed off to ring HQ, leaving me to ring the supplier, whose customer relations person politely told me that there would be no more deliveries that day.
"But I need these things for tomorrow," I pleaded. "Tomorrow is Christmas Day," came the reply.
God bless our local fishmonger and bakery because by the time my crimson-faced boss returned I had arranged for the assistant manager to pick up the much-needed produce locally - and for not much difference in price!
When will our catering accountants realise that not all chefs are dumb microwave and deep-frying cowboys?
Name And Address Supplied.
Food costing is a job to be shared
To suggest that responsibility for food costing and selling prices should be the prerogative of any one person and not a shared opportunity has been the cause of friction within our industry for as long as I have been part of it.
The "grey suits" are convinced that "the whites" don't understand the requirement to be profitable, and "the whites" think that the "grey suits" are morons without the taste and discernment to recognise good food and wines.
Unfortunately, youngsters entering catering college for training often recoil from the requirement to study in a classroom and the last thing most of them want to learn is sums. But I have taught these reluctant candidates for many years with a significant degree of success in achieving EMFEC Food Costings.
The attitude of many role models in the industry is very positive and I encourage them to speak out more often in favour of being as professional about business aspects as they are about the creative technical skills.
Finally, can we please leave behind these entrenched attitudes of "them and us" which are so prevalent in catering and match our new image of thrusting and respected professionalism with a suitable team approach.
Vindicated by Hunstrete sale
When the property columns of Caterer (20 July 1989) announced that Hunstrete House near Bath had changed hands for £4.15m I wrote to the magazine and questioned the sagacity of such an investment, citing the returns on my own, not dissimilar, 24-bedroom hotel.
I was later taken to task by one of Hunstrete's then investors who, with some finger stabbing, assured me it would prove to be a sound acquisition.
Seven years later the property has sold for £1.86m, a capital loss of £2.29m.
I have no axe to grind, but as a simple innkeeper I would like to ask: am I missing something here?
Proprietor, Cavendish Hotel,
Students do not lack experience
I write with reference to the response given by Louise Plowden to the question concerning GNVQs. Ms Plowden states that "The only direct involvement the student has with industry is during their work placement."
As a lecturer in hospitality studies I frequently invite experts from industry to speak to students. In addition to this, numerous visits to suppliers, manufacturers and industry outlets are integrated into the GNVQ programme. I know that many of my colleagues also enrich their programmes with similar industry involvement.
Furthermore, our college (and many others) has a commercially run restaurant which students studying both NVQ and GNVQ qualifications are responsible for operating. How much more involved with the industry can we be?
GNVQ (A) Hospitality & Catering,
North Lincolnshire College, Lincoln.
Don't forget the IFE 97 exhibition
While I understand that Hospitality Week would prefer to be "the only show this year for the UK hotel and catering industry" (Caterer, 9 January), I fear that on this occasion your sponsorship of that excellent Reed exhibition has obscured the truth.
IFE 97, incorporating the International Catering Show, runs from 9 to 13 February at Earls Court, London, and is firmly aimed at the UK and international catering industry. It features more than 1,000 food and drink suppliers, the vast majority of which are exhibiting to show their products to caterers.
It is easily the largest catering food and drink event in the country and I think Caterer's guide to IFE clearly demonstrates its relevance.
Needless to say, I am delighted to invite all readers of Caterer to IFE 97 - I am sure they will find it very useful. Free tickets are available by calling 01203 426472.
IIP helps you hang on to your staff
I found the article "Industry expects skills shortage to get worse" interesting if unsurprising. Such a skills shortage is borne out by recent research from the Central London Training and Enterprise Council (CENTEC), which shows there is a particular lack of skilled chefs and front of house staff among central London establishments.
This is why I don't understand why the hotel and catering industry has such a negative view of staff training and development. To me, this demonstrates a surprising lack of vision, which is corroding the industry.
The solution to dealing with a skills shortage is not just to attract or even to poach the right people, but rather to develop and to keep them.
The industry must learn that, particularly in a time of growth, companies can't afford not to invest in staff development. A properly executed development programme means that as a company grows, its staff grow with it.
Investors in People (IIP) is the government-subsidised national standard that measures how well a company invests in its staff in order to meet its business goals. IIP recognises excellence in business management where staff are central to, and an integral part of, the business strategy.
It achieves this through a proven, systematic approach to development and training which leads to improved communications, a higher level of motivation, a more skilled work-force and improved profitability.
You may argue that there is no point developing your staff if they are just going to leave. This argument does not hold up.
Companies which are IIP recognised have a higher rate of promoting from within their organisations than companies without accreditation. In an industry where experienced, qualified staff are rare, it is easier and less costly to develop and retain your employees than it is to recruit new ones.
PHILIPPA COLLINS ROBSON
Director of Marketing and Strategic Planning,
CENTEC, London SW1X.
Nottingham trent alumni
I am writing to enlist help in tracing former students of Nottingham Trent University, formerly known as Nottingham Polytechnic and Trent Polytechnic.
All our former students - whatever the name of the institution at the time they studied here - are now offered the chance to join the alumni association.
This club helps former students to keep in touch with developments at Nottingham Trent and to renew old friendships. It also offers a wide-ranging programme of events, reunions, professional networking groups and discount services.
Membership is free, and anyone interested in joining should contact the Alumni Office, Nottingham Trent University, Burton Street, Nottingham NG1 4BU. Tel/Fax: 0115 948 6126.
Nottingham Trent University,
Published by: The Caterer