Nido's Spitalfields student residence is more hip hotel than typical halls, and the F&B offering provided by Bennett Hay very much reflects its premium positioning, as Elly Earls finds out
The caterer : Bennett Hay
The client: The Nido Collection
The contract: Five-year contract at Nido's Spitalfields student residence with a potential turnover of £1m per year
Taking on a catering contract for a student accommodation building was something of a departure from the norm for bespoke hospitality services provider Bennett Hay, which usually works in the corporate environment. The Nido Collection's recently renovated flagship residence in Spitalfields, east London, however, offers far from the usual student experience, with its 32nd-floor cocktail bar, juice bar and restaurant, artisan
Indeed, since the caterer started operating at the site in September 2014, it's introduced everything from hangover-curing smoothies to innovative bubble teas, Japanese and Middle Eastern main courses and Indian street food snacks.
Plus, residents can order and eat anywhere in the 33-storey building they desire, thanks to Bennett Hay's use of tablet technology. The cocktails have proved popular, too.
Need to know
When the recently rebranded Nido Collection brought in Bennett Hay, which was one of four caterers to tender for the business, to take care of the food and beverage offers at its Spitalfields residence, it was never going to be an easy task. Not only did the client want to shape an entirely new guest experience for its new brand, with a high quality of food and service, but it also needed a caterer that could provide food and drink for the building's 1,200 residents, not just in its F&B outlets, but anywhere in the building - from the library to the meeting spaces.
The F&B outlets comprise an artisan café, a juice bar, a cocktail bar and a restaurant, and Bennett Hay also provides event catering, which can cover everything from a celebration for 800 to a private dinner for 20. "We have a team working on new food concepts continually to plan for the busy lifestyle events that go on each month," says Anthony Bennett, owner-director at Bennett Hay. "Our most recent one was an Indian street food van, which we parked up for the Holi festival."
This is just one example of the kind of creativity Nido was looking for right from the outset, Bennett says. "Creativity was one of the reasons we won the business," he explains. "The client wanted a very innovative food offer that reflected the latest food trends and also provided authenticity for the different nationalities of resident in the building."
This is precisely what Bennett Hay has delivered. While the artisan café serves everything from the caterer's own blend of coffee beans to a choice of 20 authentic bubble teas shaken to order, as well as bread, leaf and wrap offers at the deli action station, the juice bar offers a choice of 20 juices and smoothies for different health concerns, from dealing with a hangover to helping concentration.
On top of this, the building's 32nd-floor restaurant offers table service with a range of sharing plates, including mezze and loaded nachos, bowl food, including Japanese curries and falafel salads, as well as burgers and small bites. On the same floor, at the cocktail bar, which opens in the evening, mojitos and virgin daiquiris have gone down particularly well.
Technology and future plans
Of course, the students don't have to eat burgers in the restaurant or drink coffees in the café; they can order food and drink wherever they happen to be in the building, meaning tablet technology has been absolutely key to the success of Bennett Hay's offer.
"Our team use tablet technology to collect orders that feed to a kitchen printer and then our servers collect and serve the guest," Bennett explains. "We even had specially designed aprons to enable a tablet to fit into the pocket, together with the usual waiter kit bag. The main challenges have been connectivity and finding the residents if they decide to move tables!"
The caterer does have a nifty solution to ensure this won't be a problem in the future. "We are currently looking at installing a beacon system, which will enable us to place a location device under each table and locate each guest based on where they place an order from their computer," Bennett says.
The client's view
According to Brian Reeves, property and operations manager at Nido, the company was looking for an F&B partner for their Spitalfields residence that could not only cater for the diverse requirements of its residents, who hail from 106 different countries, but also fit the brand's premium positioning and was able to evolve quickly.
"We wanted a quality catering offering to support the numerous resident events that happen in our buildings," he says. "We also knew that whatever the proposition was at the outset, it would almost certainly need to quickly evolve as we learned from customer interactions and EPoS reports. For this reason, an agile partner was crucial, too."
Bennett Hay simply fitted the bill. "We were not looking for a large corporate partner who would most likely be slow to react to our requests and suggestions. Conversely, nor did we want a one-man band who would not have the resources or experience to scale up as we did. Bennett Hay's size was a good fit with how we had envisaged our partner," Reeves explains.
Since operations started, he's been proved right. "We've been most impressed with the frequency at which the directors are on-site, meeting with us and trying to improve the operation and offering," he says.
Spotlight on… marketing
Due to stiff high-street competition in centrally located Spitalfields, it's been essential for the Bennett Hay team to work hard for residents' business ever since the contract started. "We have a very, very active promotions campaign with weekly comms to all residents, and there are meal combinations, happy hours, themed events and loyalty schemes to encourage usage and spend," Bennett explains.
The team has also made sure that its offer is as good, if not better, than the high street. "We had to make sure we differentiated from the high street and took advantage of the captive audience through robust loyalty programmes," Bennett says.
"We also introduced an authentic bubble tea, which is not available in the area, and that attracted the general public to our café."