Earlier this month 23 of the most inspirational operators to receive a Catey in the awards' 30-year lifetime were brought together to share their experience in a one-day conference
CATERER ICON: RAYMOND BLANC
When Raymond Blanc took to the stage, it was clear there would be no danger of a post-lunch lull. Bounding with energy, the 2009 Lifetime Achievement Catey winner spoke about the changing face of today's hospitality guest and the industry's need to adapt. Food was class-led and exclusive when Blanc first came to the UK, he said, and it was his vision to offer luxury that never says no.
ROBIN HUTSON: THE BLUEPRINT FOR A SUCCESSFUL HOSPITALITY BUSINESS
Robin Hutson, CEO and chairman, Lime Wood Group and Home Grown Hotels
Having trained with the Savoy Group, and spent two years in Bermuda at the Elbow Beach hotel, Robin Hutson moved up to general manager at Chewton Glen, before embarking on the entrepreneurial path that has come to define him.
He partnered with Gerard Basset in 1994 to open Hotel du Vin in Winchester, offering what at the time was considered revolutionary. "I think at Hotel du Vin we were the first to put top quality Egyptian cotton in a bedroom with a price tag of less than £100," he said. The hotel also offered fresh milk and cafetieres of fresh coffee in rooms and shower heads that delivered 35 litres of water per minute.
These advances came about by listening to customers. "We observed what was going on outside our industry and listened to what our customers were saying both directly and indirectly," he added. "I do think that as an industry we can sometimes be rather inward-looking and myopic."
Since then Hutson has launched the Pig, a new take on the mid-market country house hotel. This was informed by "a new style-conscious, educated traveller who is more concerned about feeling comfortable and relaxed, than being surrounded by hotelier bling. They also want to be eating sensible food that has real traceability".
At the Pig Hutson maximises the use of home-grown products, which forms the central plank of his marketing. His staff dress in jeans and Converse trainers to endorse the relaxed spirit, and Hutson tries to make the offer as homespun as possible to distance it from corporate offerings.
Robin Hutson's tips for business success
Remember the three Ps: Product, people and PR. Make the product the best it can be at the right price point, invest in and develop your people and tell your customers what you're doing, through PR. "It's as much about how you treat the dustman as the article in a glossy magazine."
Tell a story: - Give journalists something to write about. But also nurture your relationships with the press; don't just contact them when you want something.
Think about training: - Does today's chef de partie need to know 36 ways to cut a carrot? Perhaps it's more important to source and choose the right carrot in the first place.
Be confident: Today's guest wants confident, intelligent, understated service.
It's not complicated: - There are a million details to get right; the question is choosing the right ones to concentrate on.
CREATING AND MANAGING A WINNING TEAM
Robert Cook, chief executive officer, De Vere Village HotelsChris Galvin, chef-owner, Galvin Restaurants
Philip Newman-Hall, managing director, Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons
Sean Wheeler, area director of human resources, the Dorchester, Coworth Park and 45 Park Lane
Enthusing and motivating your team is key to driving performance and standards in a hospitality operation, the conference was told. Four inspiring leaders explained that they took great pleasure in motivating, recognising and rewarding talent, and watching young people grow and develop in a business.
Finding the right people was all about attitude, the panel said. "I hire on fire in the belly. Great service isn't a mystery; just hire the right people," said Robert Cook. Chris Galvin added: "Always look at their eyes to see if they're shining and have the desire."
Galvin said to get the best out of people employers must understand them and recognise their interests. "When someone is employee of the month we write to their parents or partner and explain what a great job they've done," he said. "They then buy in to what we're trying to achieve."
He added that he shakes hands with all his chefs every day. "You can tell whether they're in a good mood, bad mood, something's wrong or they're excited."
Philip Newman-Hall stressed the importance of motivating people through rewarding and recognising excellence, though he said that didn't have to mean financially. "Catch people doing things well and reward them. Money isn't the only motivating factor; it could be going on stages or taking part in competitions. What can you do that will really cheer them up?" he asked.
Galvin Restaurants have introduced the Chef's Passport programme, which lets staff know at a glance how they are developing. "We can see if they've been eating out, or on supplier visits or taking wine training," said Galvin, underlining the importance of recognition through competitions.
Sean Wheeler describes how to inspire a team
Ignite your enthusiasm. Get up in the morning with a purpose. Your energy levels dictate the success of the day. People work for people and stay for inspiring leaders.
Navigate the course. Have a compelling vision as to where you are going with your team and what it will look like when you get there.
Sell the benefits. Celebrate success and reward people for their contribution.
Paint a picture. Have a clear set of values. Communicate what you stand for and what your team needs to deliver.
Invite participation. Hire people for their brain and make sure they contribute.
Reinforce optimism. Keep positive through thick and thin. We're going through tough times but as an inspiring leader you have to stick with it. Be consistent with your mood.
Engage potential. When you're hiring people don't just think about their job today, consider their potential for tomorrow and how they will add value to your business.
CREATING A WINNING PRODUCT
Jason Atherton, chef-restaurateur
Simon Rogan, chef-restaurateur
Xavier Rousset, co-proprietor, Texture and 28Â°-50Â°
If you could take only one idea away from this session, it would be this: simplicity. Xavier Rousset said that in today's recession-hit times, customers demand an easily understood and confident package.
Rogan agreed, and said that his restaurant Rogan & Co had suffered due to confused customers, who had thought the Á la carte venue
would be like his flagship site, L'Enclume. However, one of Rogan's Manchester restaurants - Mr Cooper's House & Garden - didn't suffer from any pre-conceived expectations, "so people are impressed".
Indeed, Atherton, of Pollen Street Social, agreed that with each new venue, other influences have to be left behind. "From presentation to music, everything has to have its own identity," he said. "I went into Little Social once, and the chef was putting 'little dots' on plates," said Atherton of his bistro. "I asked him, 'What are you doing? That's not what we're about here!'"
Regulars were seen as important too. "I like to see at least three faces that I recognise every time," said Rousset, who explained that he can tell how things are going simply by judging the number of return bookings.
Rogan felt the same, saying that even in remote Cartmel, he had to initially rely on locals for regulars in order to create a "buzz". "That was a catalyst for its success," he said.
The panel also insisted that the key to a successful product was balancing the books, explaining that without careful planning, even a restaurant with a decent turnover can lose money.
How to create a profitable product
Present a clear identity for your offer. If people aren't sure what you're about, they will get confused and won't return.
Get to know your regulars and visit often. "If you're there, you'll understand why a product isn't working," said Rousset.
Cost everything, and make sure it adds up - if not, even the most "winning product" will fail.
Don't forget the decor and design. As Atherton said: "People expect the design to deliver as much as the food."
Listen to what your customers want, and always offer value for money.
CATERER ICON: ROY ACKERMAN
Entertaining the crowd by removing his tie and equating his icon status to that of sex symbol, Roy Ackerman referred to his numerous awards as a long and passionate affair with a girl named Catey.
Yet his message of change within the industry was no laughing matter. Calling the upheaval within his lifetime extraordinary, he said that growing interest in food and influential chefs had changed the UK food scene from a laughing stock into an opened-up world. He called on everyone to grab this golden era for food, adding that it won't last forever.
An indefatigable restaurateur, whose sites have included the legendary Gay Hussar and Elena's L'Etoile, Ackerman said the key to the industry was having the desire to send people away happy. "You never stop in this business", he added, "because there is always so much to strive for".
Referencing his new online food and drink video venture, CoolCucumberTV, he summarised his long career with a quote from Winston Churchill: "This is not the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning."
KNOWING YOUR CUSTOMER
Iain Donald, restaurant consultant
Robin Hutson, CEO and chairman, Lime Wood Group and Home Grown Hotels
Andrew Stembridge, managing director, Cliveden and Chewton Glen
Ultimately, this session was about how to get to know your customer, how to learn what they need and - somewhat paradoxically - when to stick to your guns.
Iain Donald kicked off the discussion by saying that gathering data was key, whether by social media or otherwise. Engaging and interacting, as well as creating opportunities for customers to give their opinions, is a major part of a business's success, he explained.
Andrew Stembridge argued that for all their flaws, sites like TripAdvisor could provide a useful snapshot of what's happening, and help a business improve.
And yet, the panel agreed that there was a limit to the usefulness of online data, with Donald saying that he had had considerable success with other methods such as mystery guests.
Nobody liked feedback forms, however. Robin Hutson said it was better to gather information from "the staff on the ground, who know how successful things are before the managers do".
Customers just want value for money and the opportunity to try new things, he said, and will pay good money if they feel they are getting a high-quality experience.
The panel agreed that there was such a thing as forging ahead with your own ideas and sticking to them, in order to avoid the chaos that can come from "management by committee" if businesses didn't "stick to their guns enough".
Guests can tell when something isn't genuine, even if they don't quite know why, said Hutson. He added: "If you get the product right, the money will follow."
Five ways to delight your guests
- Listen to your guests - but not at all costs. For example, some didn't want children to be permitted at Chewton Glen, but allowing them has been a huge success.
- Do new things all the time. Sometimes guests don't know what they want but love new things when they're offered them.
- Give guests a chance to leave feedback and listen to staff too.
- Add value and encourage guests to "shout about you" online, with little things that don't cost much but get noticed eg. leaving unusual treats (like marshmallows) in the bedrooms.
- Stick to your guns. When Chewton Glen first talked about introducing treehouses, the shareholders tried to change it - but they have been extremely successful.
WAYS TO ENSURE YOUR BUSINESS STANDS THE TEST OF TIME
Phil Howard, chef and co-owner, the Square
Paul Milsom, managing director, Milsom Hotels and Restaurants
Harry Murray, chairman, Lucknam Park
Phil Howard, Harry Murray and Paul Milsom, all of them key figures behind longstanding businesses, shared their thoughts on how to ensure your business stands the test of time.
Murray said it was important for leaders of businesses to take time to take a step back and look at the business. "Management is doing things right, following the status quo. Leadership is doing the right thing. It is the capacity to translate vision into reality," he said.
When TripAdvisor first arrived in the market, he pointed out, it was the businesses that were failing to deliver the promise of good hospitality that were the most concerned.
Paul Milsom stressed the importance of focusing on the customer first, and not making winning accolades a key goal. At one point in the 1980s, he said, he noticed an inverse correlation between the number of accolades the family business was winning, and its financial performance. "The more the press and guide books loved us, the less our customers did," he said.
Finally, Phil Howard stressed the importance, as a chef, of understanding what the customer wants from the food in a restaurant, rather than getting obsessed with the process of producing it. He said that over the 23 years that he had been working at his restaurant, his business partner Nigel Platts-Martin got him to understand that customers didn't care about how food was made.
"Customers don't care how you got from A to B, all they care about is B," he said. "When it comes to writing menus at the Square, what's essential is that they must deliver great pleasure."
Five ways to build a business with longevity
- Analyse your financial performance over the past five years to see if the business is in good shape.
- Benchmark your business with your main competitors.
- Do an audit of all the basics of good hospitality - listen to your customers and staff.
- Identify what is unique or special about your business.
- Invest in the fabric of your business, even when times are tough.
CATERER ICON: SIMON WOODROFFE, FOUNDER, YO! SUSHI
Dressed in unconventional style, with bright green shoes to complement his suit, Woodroffe explained his unconventional approach to entrepreneurialism. A former rock show stage designer, he opened the first YO! Sushi in 1997.
Woodroffe, who left school at 16 with two O-levels, told the audience: "I really did no market research, but I had always loved sushi and I think the reason I opened YO! Sushi was because I had an idea, as a stage designer, of what it would look like. I could visualise things and I hadn't had the imagination educated out of me." He said that what drove him was "ignorance, and a great enthusiasm for ideas". Although the concept of a conveyor belt sushi bar seemed outlandish at the time, Woodroffe said that every good business idea had to have a story behind it to capture people's imagination. "For, me the food has got to be great - that is a given, whatever you do. But there has got to be what I call the 'zizz in showbiz'. I never talked about the food, or drink, or ambience, because everyone talks about that. Think about bands and their records. The ones whose records you buy are the ones you know a story about - there is a story behind everything, and the more authentic the story behind your restaurant, the more powerful it is."
BALANCING THE BOOKS
Will Smith, co-owner, Arbutus, Wild Honey and Les Deux Salons
Debrah Dhugga, managing director, Dukes London
James Horler, chief executive, 3Sixty Restaurants
Controlling costs is not a new concept and with ever-increasing price hikes in all areas of a business - food, pensions, rent, utilities, minimum wage - it's an area that require more focus than ever before.
According to Will Smith, it's all about finding the difficult balance between the caution that comes with managing a budget and the risk-taking that accompanies innovation.
When he and chef Anthony Demetre opened Arbutus with the intention of introducing a more relaxed fine-dining experience to the London market, it was always with a commercial focus. It all had to be profitable, he explained, but first class hospitality was crucial.
Debrah Dhugga agreed. She said that cost savings are essential to a healthy business but in a luxury environment you must not compromise the guest experience and these need not be mutually exclusive with careful management.
Regular team meetings to look at new money-saving opportunities are essential, explained Dhugga, because a pound of revenue is good, assuming that you're leveraging all your costs. But a pound saved from the cost goes directly to your bottom line.
Tips for controlling costs
- Plan for success from the start.
- Regularly review prices - go back to suppliers every three months and renegotiate.
- Recognise and reward managers and chefs on their gross profits.
- Use technology management tools to turn off equipment when they're not needed.
- Remember that the top line is important but it means nothing if the bottom line is unhealthy.
Questions to consider when seeking investment
By James Horler
- Is your business a passing fad? Investors aren't interested in a fashionable proposition but the potential for long-term growth.
- Do you have good like-for-likes? What is the break-even? How fixed are the fixed costs, what are the wages and what is the rent ratio to sales?
- How expensive are the central costs and what are the real cash-on-cash returns?
- How much do the founders earn? Investors will look at whether it's run as a lifestyle or as a genuine business.
- How realistic is the growth plan? Most businesses can typically sustain 10% growth per annum.
- What is the cost of capital and are you realistic about the value of your business?
ONLINE REPUTATION MANAGEMENT AND NEW CHANNELS TO MARKET
Laurence Beere, owner, the Queensberry hotel
Paul Goodale, managing director, Epicurean Holdings
Jonathan Raggett, managing director, Red Carnation Hotels
The internet continues to create new opportunities to reach guests, the panel agreed, though they warned that, particularly when it came to booking via online travel agents (OTAs), care had to be taken to get the right deal.
Jonathan Raggett said that when it came to online feedback, all operators had to take review sites seriously. "85% of first-time bookers tell me they've been onto a review site before confirming. It's the biggest single decision maker for someone not knowing about hotels," he said.
He added that at Red Carnation its 'delight strategy' empowers employees to make decisions. "One such example was when a family left their daughter's teddy, Foxy, behind," he explained. "Most hotels would post it back to the owner. That's good. But our staff said Foxy was extending his stay and took pictures of him by the pool with other stuffed toys, saying he had met some friends. They then sent him back in a wonderful box with the photos."
Hospitality is a content-rich product, added Paul Goodale, offering many opportunities for promotion via social media. "You don't need to build a reality," he said. "At Pizza Luxe one of our new graphic images went viral. For a small brand that kind of phenomenon is a good way to employ social media."
When it came to securing bookings, the panel agreed that direct was preferable, OTAs had their place. Laurence Beere advised: "Choose your partner wisely. If a guest books through OTAs, they won't worry which one it is as they're motivated by price."
He said that operators should reward those who book direct. But for that to work, the infrastructure needed to be right. "Direct booking portals should be clear and easy to use," he said.
Five ways to boost online business
- Empower staff to exceed expectations regardless of cost.
- Get the basics right. Ask what time a guest is arriving. When they arrive they don't want a free coffee, they want their room.
- If you receive negative comments online, you need to get them offline as quickly as possible. On the flip side, try to keep the conversation going when comments are positive.
- When a booking comes in via an OTA, ask the guest why they used the booking engine they did. By offering incentives like a free upgrade you can turn them into a direct booking next time.
- Ensure your online booking portal is simple and straightforward to use.