When it comes to mobilisation, "communication is key," says Marc Frankl, food and beverage director at NEC Group's foodservice arm Amadeus.
Mobilisation - the period of time following a contract being signed and before the service is delivered - is critical for the supplier.
"You need to understand the client and know who the decision-makers are - the people who can make things happen. You should ensure they know what we are trying to achieve as a business, and on their behalf. If we can get them to see the 'why' - the reasons behind what we are trying to do - it makes everything so much easier," he adds.
Frankl says mobilising an existing operation can be painless, but new builds less so. "Often, when we move into a new restaurant it's a building site, so you have to deal with contractors, architects and building control. That becomes quite a complicated communication trail. It is the same process, but there are more links in the chain."
For example, when the staff at the Barclaycard Arena were preparing for a Michael Bublé concert last winter, the catering contractor was just a small part of that, says Frankl. "The priority for the client is getting the thing open - we [the caterer] just have to make sure we don't fall off their priority list."
"It comes back to communication and good project management. You have to be process-driven and understand what needs to happen; who is responsible for what, the normal lead times and all the steps in the chain," Frankl says. "This runs from meeting the client on day one and agreeing a scope and a brief, to opening the doors to a shiny new restaurant on day 31."
Meeting of minds
Contract caterer Olive Catering has opened 10 contracts during 2015 and plans to make this figure 20 by the year end.
The caterer, says co-founder Damon Brown, will only work with clients who see a staff restaurant as a benefit; a mindset that makes mobilisation - and ongoing business - better.
"We are clear that it is a business partnership and [clients] have to be involved," says Brown. "Otherwise it's not going to work."
Olive has a "very detailed" plan for mobilisation with a clear allocation of responsibility, says Brown. Sales and operations examine site-specific details at the outset, so that critical issues, such as access, inventory and works plans, are not undone by minor oversights.
"That means communicating clearly, not just with the client, but with facilities, maintenance and services," says Brown.
"It goes back to working with clients who see it as a benefit. Then the other service providers are interested. They get it. They want to have that meeting with us to make it happen." Brown says perhaps the most critical communication is with those staff most affected by the change of contract and who are undergoing the TUPE process, or transfer of undertakings.
"Clients generally change caterer because they are not happy. We need to change that mindset, so we spend a lot of time during the mobilisation period on-site."
The outgoing caterer will hold a lot of knowledge that needs to be obtained before they leave, so it's wise to have a mobilisation checklist, says Brown: "There should be a handing over of the keys to the building, as well as details of security access, along with equipment, inventory and stock ownership. Then when the outgoing caterer takes away half the kit, you won't be left saying 'What's going on?'"
Rachael Kalidas, mobilisation programme manager at Sodexo Prestige, was the mobilisation lead for the firm's contract at the Imperial Healthcare Trust - a huge contract for the company.
The 12-week mobilisation, under which 1,200 staff were transferred under TUPE, went well overall, says Kalidas. But the tight schedule was exacerbated by a Care Quality Commission (CQC) inspection during the process that meant the incoming facilities management company was way down the pecking order.
"We had highlighted CQC as a risk at the start of the project, but I don't think we had really understood what a risk it was." That meant time with the clinical teams was severely limited, with some communications delivered after the restaurant had opened as a result.
"It was definitely our biggest challenge," says Kalidas. "We run a 'lessons learned' process after every mobilisation. One suggestion was that we should have said to the client we need to push the mobilisation back another four weeks. Whether we would have been successful or not is another question. But we have learned that for other mobilisations that fall within a CQC audit, we may need longer."
Successful mobilisation, says Kalidas, starts at the bidding stage. Nine times out of 10, suppliers want information on how the contract will be mobilised even before the contract is won, she says. Then they organise a 'chemistry session' with the mobilisation manager prior to awarding the contract. "So yes, [the mobilisation plan] has become more important over the last couple of years. Now they understand it is a huge part in making sure the contract is successful and hits the ground running."
A key part to successful mobilisation is making sure you have a crystal clear governance plan at the outset, says Kalidas. "Ensure everyone fully understands their role and responsibilities and that there are clear lines to the decision maker and the escalation route. It is crucial that those parameters are set out at the start."
Honesty is another critical factor, and the only way to mitigate risks, Kalidas adds. "If there is any project slippage, be open about it and [ask] whether the client can support you to bring it back in line."
Honesty is just another facet of open communication. Kalidas says it is better to have a lot of little battles to avoid fall-out at the end.
"We have to have some tough conversations with clients during a mobilisation, but if we just told them everything was on track, we wouldn't be building a very good relationship and we couldn't get over some of the hurdles without their support."
Yet even with a plan in place, a caterer still needs to trust its people to carry it out. "People are the crux of our organisation," says Kalidas. "So we need to make sure they have everything they need to do their jobs and that they understand everything. We need to pay them on day one and ensure that any benefit schemes they are in are continued. Making the change as smooth as possible hugely affects the success of the mobilisation and of the future of the operation," she says.
Case study: Sodexo at Heathrow Terminal 2
Sodexo at Heathrow Terminal 2
Last year Sodexo Prestige mobilised the United Airlines Business and First Class lounges at Heathrow's brand new Terminal 2.
The Heathrow lounges are designed to service around 600,000 passengers a year at the airline's departure lounge and 30,000 passengers a year at its arrival lounge.
The Business Class Lounge has a constantly changing buffet and the First Class lounge offers a full Á la carte menu, an extensive buffet and a semi-private dining area. The Sodexo team also looks after the Arrivals Lounge.
Richard Cripps, operations director at Sodexo Prestige Aviation, says: "The mobilisation was a huge challenge on several levels. It was United Airlines' first ever all-inclusive lounge service, so it offered the opportunity to design new, innovative ways of working.
"The team also faced the challenge of mobilising in a terminal that was still in the process of being built and changing on a daily basis."
That necessitated a close relationship with all parties and a multi-disciplined team. Initially, masters of service, including hosts, chefs and porters, were trained and then asked for input and ideas. Bartenders were given the opportunity to create new cocktails for the drinks menu, for example, says Cripps.
"The huge amount of planning and attention to detail meant it was a great success. The client has been delighted and we have been awarded its United One Vendor Recognition award," says Cripps. "Terminal 2 now serves as the gold standard for United's portfolio of lounges across the world."
Ammy Sandhu, duty manager, Customer Services, United Lounges and Global Services at Heathrow, said: "The mobilisation of our lounges has been incredibly successful and we have received great customer feedback.
"At every stage of the process the Sodexo leadership team was responsive to our constructive feedback, making improvements and adjustments when necessary. The whole team is highly efficient and each team member displays real pride in what they do."
Case study: Amadeus at Cadbury Café, Cadbury World
Amadeus at Cadbury Café
At the end of December 2013 Amadeus signed a contract to operate the Cadbury Café at Cadbury World, Birmingham. Every January the visitor attraction closes for 21 days, so Amadeus had three weeks to create a new feel for the café, along with a menu and a fully re-trained catering team.
Time and people were the biggest challenges. For Amadeus, a complete mobilisation project normally takes around 12 weeks, but it had just 21 days to overhaul the interior, menus, customer service and customer flow. Thirty staff had to be transferred, with the associated contracts and cultural requirements.
The café interior was transformed into 'the factory in the garden' with lighting in the form of clouds and milk bottles and life-sized cows incorporated into the design.
The menu was revised, and core Amadeus products were tailored to Cadbury World. Introducing chocolate created several 'fame maker' products, such as chocolate chilli baby back ribs with a Cadbury cocoa crust.
Customer service was brought in line with the overall visitor experience and the existing catering team were trained to offer a high standards of service to match Amadeus' values.
Clearer signage and extra tills were installed to improve the customer flow around the café and new suppliers were sourced.
The cafe was overhauled in just 21 days and opened on time.