Over the past five years, the well-travelled team at the Ford McDonald Consultancy have seen a rise in demand for their expertise in creating food and beverage concepts across the globe. Rosalind Mullen caught up with Dominic Ford and Patrick McDonald between flights
You need a passport handy if you're on the Ford McDonald Consultancy (FMC) team. In the past few weeks alone, joint managing directors Dominic Ford and Patrick McDonald have hammered their airmiles. At the moment, Ford is working between Berlin and Japan and McDonald is in Doha, but they are juggling about seven international projects.
The past five years have been particularly busy for the consultancy, with contracts to develop foodservice operations in the UK, Europe, Russia, Hong Kong, and the Middle East (see panel). The team's services range from devising concepts and menu trends for new businesses to addressing managerial or operational issues and reinvigorating existing food halls and restaurants.
He hints that some "very interesting" new concepts are coming out of Asia at the moment, particularly from Singapore and Taiwan. "Watch this space," he says. Presumably, Ford will take some ideas to Berlin, where he is working at the KaDeWe store, overseeing the development of Europe's biggest food hall - at 80,000 sq ft - plus a restaurant on the floor above of 45,000 sq ft.
The budget for the food hall is â¬25m (£19m) and among the list of potential operators there will be new concepts, such as a microbrewery and Wurstkessel (or German sausage restaurant).
But he stresses he "won't fix what isn't broken", so will retain the eat-over counters that KaDeWe is famous for. The restaurant area will include a brasserie and bar with views over the city - "think Oxo Tower, but bigger", says Ford.
McDonald, meanwhile, is working on a couple of projects in Doha, Qatar. These include Save the Dream on behalf of the International Centre for Sport Security - a fine-dining concept with profits dedicated to world causes.
It will be rolled out to six or seven sites globally and will be up and running in late 2016. The consultancy was originally set up by McDonald in 1996, but in 2004 he was joined by Ford and it was relaunched as the Ford McDonald Consultancy. The partnership is a formidable one. In the past 35 years, McDonald has proved himself as a Michelin-starred chef, consultant and restaurateur - he opened his first restaurant, the Epicurean, in Stow-onthe-Wold, in 1989. Ford's food and beverage management career also spans more than 30 years, taking in the wine trade, restaurants, hotels and food retail.
The pair connected in 1996 when Ford, who was creating and managing the restaurant and food division at Harvey Nichols, brought McDonald in as consultant chef. The Oxo Tower restaurant they opened continues to generate profit on turnover in excess of £14m.
"Dom brought food retail to the party. A lot of what we'd done before had been hotel restaurants," says McDonald.
Also on the team is operations director Kevin Webley, chef-consultant Jason Lynas and Simon Preston in retail and marketing. They each bring specialisms and tend to work on projects as part of the client team. "We gravitate to the area that we work best in," says Webley.
For instance, McDonald tends to lean towards design-led operational areas, such as kitchens. "I have good spatial awareness. I can visualise the size of a room to get the ball rolling. Dom is Mr Spreadsheet and Kevin is products, sourcing, suppliers and retail projects."
Any other required expertise is outsourced. McDonald says having, say, in-house designers would create too much baggage. Instead, they use core providers, some of whom they have worked with for 25 years.
"There isn't a team of 150 people in the office. There's no need. And it would be boring as we would be churning the same stuff out," says McDonald.
What clients want
Projects vary, with often as many as 10 running concurrently. Some clients simply want a view on their F&B - though this can unearth other issues. For instance, if a restaurant started out as a grill and then moved towards Asian food with a requirement for wok burners, the kitchen may no longer be fit for purpose.
"A lot of what we do is analytical. We strip back to the bare bones. We tell it as it is and as we see it, which is not always what people want to hear," says McDonald. "Some operators are so successful that they only bring in consultants when they need to every few years. Some companies diversify their F&B offer and end up in the wrong place, so we get them back on track," he says. "And it gives clients confidence to know that we are there for six months or more - sometimes we become part of it."
Webley adds: "We are all experienced operators first and foremost, so we understand the nuts and bolts, from coffee makers in the kitchen to high-stress service."
With an eye on the next big thing, they have been creating the kitchens at a co-working space on Lever Street in London EC1. "Coworking sites are a huge growth area," says Webley. "F&B is slow to catch up with this, but we discovered the trend. We are launching a co-working site with all-day F&B that is fit for purpose and commercially viable. It is unrealistic to expect the workers to make it pay, so you need to attract outsiders and get it to also work in the evenings."
Ford is excited about a new Chinese concept, Poon's Pantry, which he says will be rolled out in due course. The restaurant and deli has been created by Amy Poon, whose father Bill owned and ran Poons restaurants in London's West End in the 1970s and 1980s.
"It's a sort of modern Chinese version of Carluccio's, and we are expecting to put an offer in shortly for our first site," says Ford The first outlet will be standalone, but as part of the roll-out the concept may go into department stores or train stations. "There are no "We will look at what might perform more strongly and be a powerhouse in the evening to generate a spread of footfall when transitioning from day to evening," explains Webley.
Another current project involves the rethinking of F&B at Westminster Park Plaza in London. And a more challenging contract has been at La Samaritaine in Paris, a beautiful heritage department store that had a number of planning issues. The client is Hong Kong duty-free retailer DFS, owner of LVMH, and the team have developed all the F&B, including cafés and restaurants, plus a food hall and a wine department. A key customer base will be Asian tourist groups, so the team are introducing tastemakers - or product experts - to talk customers through the food. The project is now on schedule for completion in 2018-2019.
So what's next? McDonald says they may recruit a second tier of directors to take on the work that doesn't require such a strong skill set, or bring in young blood for the research and technology side. The option of developing a recruitment arm was dismissed, however, as they see no point competing with the recruitment firms they already work well with.
What is gathering momentum is that the business is moving away from being fee-based and is taking more equity in projects.
"It helps the client because we then have a vested interest in the business," explains McDonald. "We are increasingly asked to become partners, but need to manage that relationship so as not to spread ourselves too thinly."
The clients: a snapshot
â- DFS - Pacific Islands
â- East India Co - London
â- Fenwick - UK
â- Four Seasons Hotels
â- Harvey Nichols - London
â- ICSS - Qatar
â- InterContinental Hotels - Europe
â- Illum - Denmark
â- KaDeWe - Berlin
â- La Liga Lounge - Madrid and Doha
â- Lane Crawford - Hong Kong
â- La Rinascente - Milan
â- Lego - Denmark
â- LVMH - Paris & Venice
â- Nespresso - Lausanne & Vienna
â- Park Plaza Hotels - Europe
â- Printemps - Paris
â- Savoy hotel - London
â- Selfridges - London
â- Skolkovo Golf Resort - Moscow
â- Tsum - Moscow and Kiev
â- Tsvetnoy - Moscow
Highlights from the past five years
One of FMC's biggest projects has been developing the F&B at the Tsvetnoy department store in Moscow, which achieved $27m
(£19m) in turnover in the first year.
Recruited by the property developer in 2010, the team were faced with a 65,000 sq ft shell over three floors. Undaunted, they brought in specialists in kitchen design, equipment, lighting, EPoS, security and sound systems and managed the team of architects and designers. They built units, audited, recruited staff, organised uniforms, commissioned bespoke equipment and sourced partners.
Webley set up the logistics to introduce 1,200 products. The result was a food market, café, two restaurants and a night club. Among the first tenants they brought in was the Ginza Project to operate the food hall and two restaurants. The Russian company also runs Restaurant MariVanna in Moscow and Knightsbridge, London - "and while we can't say too much, there might be more", says McDonald.
Other significant contracts over the past five years include InterContinental Hotel Group (IHG). In 2012, IHG asked the team to define the future of F&B for InterContinental and Indigo hotels within Europe.
It took them six months to advise on the organisational structure, marketing, training and management. They reported on what was good, bad and what needed work. For instance, the three restaurants at IHG in Berlin were identified as needing a new alignment, while Hotel Indigo Kensington underwent an internal redevelopment.
"The F&B wasn't broken," says McDonald. "But the operation is so big, with so many brands, that they wanted to know what the options and opportunities were."
Webley adds: "The challenge is from the diversity of the estate -with different markets, countries and logistics - so it is difficult to develop a catch-all philosophy."
The team also came up with the five restaurant and bar concepts for the recently launched Intercontinental London The O2.
Arguably, the team are in demand because they have the experience to work on large food retail projects, while in the hotel sector the major groups are developing so fast that senior management simply do not have the capacity to deal with all the projects on their estates.
"While retailers are good at running their businesses, it is another thing to design and create them," says Ford.
Webley adds: "We get the edge from concentrating on what we are good at and outsourcing the rest." Most contracts simply come their way. "We are a reactive business. We react to requests, word of mouth and previous clients," says McDonald, citing the fact that Roman Abramovich asked FMC to develop the restaurant and clubhouse at his Skolkovo golf club in Moscow on the back of the work they did at the Tsvetnoy department store. From there, they were commissioned to do the Tsum department stores in Kiev and Moscow.
FMC has taken a cue from the fashion industry for its department store projects. In 2013, it turned the food hall around at Fenwick in Newcastle. The store had invested in fashion and beauty, but F&B needed to be aligned.
"Fashion departments realised that great lighting and layout was attractive to customers, but it has taken food retail a lot longer to jump on the bandwagon," explains Webley. "Customers don't just want great food and drink, they want to be in a great environment, too. It is now rammed."
The new food hall is trading 46% up on the previous business, thanks to the introduction of eat-over counters, integrated restaurants and a hospitality driven approach to food retailing.
"There was a conscious effort to source local, independent brands and operators to maintain a sense of authenticity.
Ouseburn Coffee Company [roasters from Newcastle], Rafi Spice from York, Naked Deli from Heaton and Blagdon Farm Shop are all now in place," says McDonald.
Some of the rest
Several of the F&B developments the team have worked on were groundbreaking - take the Eden Project and Burj Al Arab (which McDonald describes as "mindboggling"), for instance. Here are a few projects from the past five years that also captured the imagination.
â- One project that you might see in the UK is FMC's new Nespresso Café concept, which the team opened in Vienna last spring. Do & Co is now in a joint-venture partnership with Nespresso to roll it out elsewhere, with London on the agenda.
â- FMC also worked on the Savoy Tea Shop & Patisserie, which launched in 2010 along with the £220m refurbishment of the five-star hotel. FMC advised on the spatial layout, briefed designers, came up with a merchandising strategy and sourced products.
â- FMC also helped to win a Michelin Bib Gourmand for the Quince Tree, a farmshop and deli, café, pub and restaurant near Henley on Thames that has since been rolled out to Little Venice in London and Stonor in Oxfordshire.