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The Caterer

Better Business – Kudos at Harrogate International Centre, North Yorkshire

16 March 2012
Better Business – Kudos at Harrogate International Centre, North Yorkshire

Kudos has been at Harrogate International Centre, North Yorkshire, for 12 years - catering for anything from 200 to 3,000 people. Janie Manzoori-Stamford talks to general manager Ben Campbell, who has just been named the company's General Manager of the Year

Need to know Kudos, the Crown Group's food and venue management arm, has been responsible for the catering at Harrogate International Centre (HIC) for 12 years. General manager Ben Campbell has been at the helm for just over a year and despite the increased tightening of belts in the events industry, he was able to deliver on all key performance indicators, effectively manage his budget and achieve sales targets.

It was this, in addition to his support of the rest of the Kudos group, which earned him the company's General Manager of the Year award. Under Campbell's leadership the HIC produced a second winner, with Leah White being named Kudos Employee of the Year.

The operations carried out by Kudos include all food and beverage operations at events held at the venue, from public and trade shows to conference and banqueting, catering for anything from 200 to 3,000 people.

"We work very closely with the in-house events team to ensure the events are pulled off. This partnership is crucial," says Campbell.

"We have client meetings to go through all the details. The events team joins us for the menu tasting so they have full knowledge because catering is a huge part of any event."

Target market The multi-use venue attracts a broad range of clients. As well as a large number of trade shows and public exhibitions, it hosts entertainment events, private functions, and conference and banqueting.

Following a particularly challenging period, Campbell says that delegate numbers attending the venue have been on the rise in recent months. Not only that, but there is an increased willingness to spend.

"But it all depends on the time of year," he says. "The shows are normally just before August, and there's a lot at the back end of the year, from September to November."

Business tends to be booked two years in advance and HIC gets a lot of repeat business, but that doesn't prevent it from continually seeking new and exciting opportunities.

While a lot of that comes down to the versatility of the venue - it includes 10 interconnecting exhibition halls; a multi-functional suite that can be divided into as many as 10 meeting rooms; a 2,000 seat auditorium; the Royal Hall, a recently restored 1,200 seat Edwardian theatre; and the Sun Pavillion, an art deco space for up to 150 set within the Valley Gardens - the ability of Kudos to create a bespoke offer for every client has undoubtedly contributed.

Bespoke services Campbell says: "Rather than send out general menu packs when we have client show rounds, we discuss what we can do with the catering in order to tailor menus to exactly meet clients' needs.

"It means that they can feel from the initial quotation that they have options rather than just a standard package. The catering isn't an afterthought."

Kudos recently launched a new retail range for the public shows. Conceived by Campbell and director of food Frank Bordoni, the Think retail brand incorporates new food trends to keep as many delegates in the venue as possible.

Campbell explains: "Our town centre location means we're competing with the high street. The Think brand is very much about grab-and-go: sandwiches as well as soups and stew pots to offer a hot option. Some of our points are mobile, with no cooking facilities, but the soups and stews are cooked in-house and then warmed from chilled on the day."

Future growth "It's easy to get complacent, especially with repeat conferences," says Campbell. "We're always looking at new ways to give customers a better offer and new food choices."

As consumers become increasingly health conscious, there is a greater focus on meeting different dietary needs. The Think brand features four varieties of salad pots with the dressing packaged separately, giving the customer options.

For the less calorie conscious, there is a selection of home-made cakes, too. For Kudos, the benefits of baking in-house are two-fold. According to Campbell, you can go anywhere and buy a pre-wrapped product but that's not what consumers want.

He says: "Customers see the difference between a home-made cake and a standard batch. It's better quality. We do anything from caramel slices to chocolate brownies."

But not only do they get the populist vote, they're much better for the bottom line. Sales have risen by about 25% since offering home-made lines and margins are also better because there is more control over raw ingredients.

Favourite supplier Seasonality and local sourcing is as important in the events market as the restaurant sector and Kudos is asked to use local suppliers wherever possible. As a result, it has used local dairy JG Bellerby for years, while Harrogate bakery Howard's Continental delivers fresh bread daily.

Best business advice According to Campbell, it's essential to tailor the business to the requirements of each event. "You can't have a set matrix. Every event is different and it's key to meet the client's expectations," he explains.

"It's very easy to roll out a standardised product or menu, but it's crucial to look at ways to improve their experience, making it more bespoke."

Spotlight on ISOs

Kudos is among only 1% of UK businesses to hold four International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) accreditations, including ISO 14001 (environmental management), ISO 18001 (health and safety), ISO 9001 (quality management) and ISO 22000 (food safety management).

Campbell says that the standards for which Kudos is accredited are essential and that the company, as well as the venues in which it operates, take them very seriously.

"It demonstrates that we look at all the key elements within our business and the ways in which we can improve," he says. "It also gives consistency across the group. While we're given a free rein on how we run our venues and menus, the core values are these elements and they're standardised across the business."

Ben Campbell's revelations

Favourite hotel Thorpe Park hotel & spa, Harrogate
Favourite restaurant Restaurant Bar & Grill, Leeds
Motto You're only as good as your last event
If you weren't a GM, what would you have been? I always wanted to be a vet
Who in the industry do you most admire? Alex Polizzi, because of her management style and success
Describe your business in five words Diverse, passionate, rewarding, food-focused, dynamic

Facts and stats

General manager Ben Campbell
Head chef Dan Hainsworth
Staff Six, plus 50 to 150 extra, dependent on event
Number of years at venue 12
Annual turnover £2m

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