Nick James – My Life in Hospitality

Nick James – My Life in Hospitality

Nick James is the director of event caterer Dish
Nick James very nearly became a farmer, like both his father and grandfather before him. But by the end of his agricultural degree, he realised it wasn't the job for him. "I like working with people and you don't really do much of that in agriculture," he explains. "So I took a job as a waiter in a hotel and within six months I was made assistant manager."

Having found his niche, James spent the next eight years working in country house hotels, where he had the opportunity to learn an enormous amount from the late Bob Payton who, in addition to launching the now defunct My Kinda Town restaurant chain, owned Stapleford Park hotel in Melton Mowbray, Leicestershire.

However, when James returned to the UK from an extended trip to South Africa he found a very different job market. As a result he began freelancing with events caterers including Lorna Wing, Mustard and Alison Price, but by 2002 he decided to go it alone.

When a potential client approached James with an event opportunity he didn't have the facilities to take it, so he introduced them to established events caterer Dish.

"It mainly worked in the private market, but didn't have a corporate arm, so I bought myself into the company at the same time and as a result there was a marriage of the two disciplines," he says.

Since then James says Dish has gone from strength to strength. However he has no desire to become one of the big players in the events market.

"We expand because we have to but we don't want to get to the stage when a client can't call up and speak to a director," he explains. "That's where some caterers go slightly awry - they lose the personal touch."

HIGHS… Many of Dish's events have provided some of James' biggest career highs. In particular, the caterer's first event at the Natural History Museum after making it on to the approved suppliers list proved memorable.

"It was a big celebrity-filled charity event for 500 people and there was a short, challenging production turnaround time," he explains. "But it went really well, which is a fantastic start to a new business relationship."

More recently, James was proud that Dish could demonstrate its versatility with a Marvel comic-themed launch of a new space at Madame Tussauds. The Stardome event saw green, yellow and red sandwiches complement the 4D presentation before serving beef with deep fried "spider's web" noodles.

But perhaps James's proudest moment came in 2005 when Dish won the CEA Event Caterer of the Year Award. He admits it was quite a surprise but describes the award as a tremendous accolade.

LOWS… When James graduated from agricultural college he knew that it wasn't a career path he could follow. However, fate conspired to lead him into a life of hospitality and James is pleased to say he has never looked back.

As any caterer knows, supplier issues can provide the biggest on-the-job heartache, to which James can certainly attest.

"Recently a linen supplier let me down badly. They didn't deliver until 6.20pm and we had guests arriving at 7.00pm," says James. However a speedy and efficient response from the Dish team resulted in places for 400 laid in just 40 minutes - not that he's keen to repeat the experience.

In 2006, James and business partner Fiona Stewart-Brown decided to branch out and offer a full production service. For one Christmas they set up a marquee in Canary Wharf, providing not just the food element of an event but also the marquee itself, the lighting and the entertainment.

"We thought we were going to make lots of money but we just about broke even," he sighs. However James says it was a valuable lesson: stick to what you do best.

Family Single
Age 49
Favourite holiday Taormina, Sicily
Drives VW Toureg
Motto Provide good service, good food at reasonable prices and be innovative


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