The latest University Caterers Organisation conference saw some mindful discussion on how to treat guests and a magical banquet at the University of Exeter
The three-day conference featured keynote speakers including Dr Steve Peters, a consultant psychiatrist working in elite sport; international speaker Christopher Barrat; John Vincent, co-founder and chief executive of fast food chain Leon and Geoff Ramm, author of Celebrity Service.
Seminars covered topics including marketing, sourcing locally, allergens and 'nudging' healthy choices. The conference also included an exhibition of 80 stands, a series of live lounge sessions where suppliers demonstrated their products and learning tours based around the city of Exeter, which included cheese and winemaking sessions.
As well as all this, TUCO members and delegates enjoyed a Harry Potter-themed evening at the University of Exeter, where a three-course meal was prepared by the university's catering team. There was also another meal held in the beautiful surroundings of Exeter cathedral.
The state of the nation
Professor Sir Steve Smith, vice-chancellor and chief executive of the University of Exeter, kicked off the conference programme with a 'state of the nation' introduction. He discussed the impact of Brexit and what it's likely to mean for universities in the UK. "It's not exactly welcoming to international students," he said. "Higher education is still a massive value-add and it's more important than ever for UK universities to compete globally."
Smith also warned delegates that a demographic dip of 9% in the 18-24 age group is expected by 2025. He said students will increasingly be looking at what they get for their money as tuition fees rise.
"The impact of what you [university caterers] do affects the bottom line. Students don't know who supplies accommodation or catering," he said. "Students will look at infrastructure and are increasingly becoming consumers."
Farewell to Julie Barker
Chief operating officer Mike Haslin explained that TUCO has seen its membership grow to 482 in the past year. He said: "As part of our exciting ongoing expansion plans, we created the TUCO Academy with London South Bank University. This is a major initiative, designed to help address skills shortages in our sector and deliver a wide range of courses, training study tours and professional advice to our members.
"This is a significant year where we look to welcome Matthew White as our new chair. But, alongside Matthew's appointment, we will also bid a sad and fond farewell to our current chair, Julie Barker, who stands down in September after almost six years of service, during a period of intense evolution and change in the history of TUCO. We are delighted Julie will be remaining on the board of TUCO so her knowledge and experience can be shared and accessed."
The chimp model
Dr Steve Peters followed with a keynote address entitled 'Mind management - deal with the outcome not the process'. Peters has worked with the England football team and Sky ProCycling, as well as Olympic athletes, and here he taught delegates how to better understand the workings of the mind.
Peters is the author of The Chimp Paradox, a personal development book in which he simplifies the mind into three teams, each with their own agenda and way of working: the human, the computer and the chimp.
"Have you ever found yourself saying 'I'm sorry for what I just said'?" he questioned. "Well that's usually because your chimp has reacted faster than the human. The human - you - works with facts and truth, whereas the chimp is an independent, emotional thinking machine and works without your permission, based on feelings and impressions. The computer is a storage area for programmed thoughts and behaviours and can be programmed by both the human and the chimp.
"You need to manage your chimp," he said. "You cannot use it as an excuse for behaving badly. You have to learn what effect you are having on others and if you cause other people's chimps to react. It is important to understand that other people have limits too."
Learning to lead
In his talk, Christopher Barrat explored the notion of whether great leaders are born or if people can learn to become one. "Iconic leaders are different to great leaders," he said. In listing the types of leadership, from iconic, driven, mentor, inspiring, great and the boss down to jobsworth and task master, he said delegates should aim for the middle section.
He advised delegates to talk about their feelings more, especially when they are frustrated: "We're good at picking up if words do not match feelings. Master the art of mirroring pitch and tone to build rapport with people," he suggested.
Barrat also discussed the importance of connectivity and explained that in restaurants 'elbow-touching' waitresses make 36% more in tips compared to those who don't. "It needs to be a natural process, but people seem to respond to the connection," he said.
He pointed out that several management arguments are about tactics instead of outcomes and cited his battles with his wife at home concerning the dishwasher: "We both want the same outcome, but have different tactics. People need to start talking about the real issues. Petty arguments are often used as a means of addressing bigger problems."
John Vincent told delegates how healthy fast-food chain Leon has been using the principles of the martial art Wing Tsun in management decision-making.
"It's about winning, not fighting," he said. "You don't just try to stop the competition, you attack while you defend and you keep moving forward. At Leon, we put visceral decision-making at the front end - the customer-facing end - of the business as well as managerial."
Vincent was joined by Wing Tsun instructor Julian Hitch - dressed in his martial art robes. Hitch has been working with Leon for around nine months and has become one of Vincent's most-valued business advisers. Earlier this year, Vincent decided to teach some of his baristas Wing Tsun in an attempt to improve performance and promote staff wellbeing. The result of the experiment saw an increase in the quality of the coffee the baristas made; they made the coffees faster; and their heart rate and stress levels went down, despite the fact that they were working at extra speed.
Leon has since rolled out the programmes to all baristas, kitchen and head office staff -around half its workforce - and Hitch is helping to design a 'Kung Fu Barista' qualification.
Vincent concluded: "Catering is a hard and physical job which is not usually recognised. If we make people's lives better, the business will be better. Putting people ahead of customers has put us in good stead."
The closing keynote speech, delivered by Geoff Ramm, looked at the levels of service that should be delivered to customers and how to build excitement at every touchpoint. He asked the audience to think about whether they would treat a celebrity any differently than a 'normal' customer. "That's the gap in your service," he said. "If you were delivering at that level all the time, you wouldn't be able to cope with the word of mouth."
He spoke of the little touches that get people talking and cited an example of his recent stay in a Marriott hotel when his cup of tea was brought over with a timer, so he could ensure it was brewed exactly to his liking. "Who's talking about the little touches you deliver?" he said.
Ramm talked about an example of excellent customer service from burger restaurant Wimpy in South Africa. The company was quick to respond to a rival burger chain, which didn't allow someone with a guide dog to eat in the restaurant. Wimpy decided to take steps to make the blind community feel welcome: it introduced a braille menu and made 15 braille burgers, where the sesame seeds on the bun spelled out the type of burger. Word of the initiative spread to an audience of 800,000.