Retail catering is huge in the hospitality industry, representing most of the big sandwich, coffee, fast food, restaurant and pub chain brands. It provides excellent career opportunities for anyone with talent and ambition. Rosalind Mullen reports
What's in a name? Well, the term "retail catering" might sound a bit confusing, but it needn't be. Broadly speaking, it covers a lot of today's popular, grab-and-go or affordable concepts, including sandwich, coffee and fast food chains and even branded restaurants and pubs. You'll find them everywhere from airports and motorway service stations to shopping malls, leisure centres and even high streets - in fact, anywhere with a large volume of customers.
Employers include some of the biggest names in catering - such as Starbucks, McDonald's, Yo! Sushi, Carluccio's and Frankie & Benny's - and the extent of their vast empires means there is a well-tiered management structure promising advancement for those who make use of their great training programmes.
In other words, one of the main advantages of retail catering is that it gives people with sound financial acumen at assistant, general store manager or operational level the chance to run their own business.
It's also a buoyant sector. Retail catering is a fast-paced, growing industry that, according to Mintel, will be worth a hefty £1.43b by 2011.
One particular growth area is in the healthy eating, fresh food-to-go market, as seen in successful brands such as Pret A Manger, Fresh and Wild and fast-growing new chains like Leon and Eat.
Elsewhere, high street stores such as Marks & Spencer and Sainsbury's are also developing high-quality, in-store catering outlets to lure customers away from competitors, with Tesco teaming up with Costa Coffee.
On the A roads, Heston Blumenthal is working with Little Chef to revamp its menus, but if you really want a challenge, head down to a motorway service station such as Roadchef where the job of keeping vast numbers of travellers happy is big business.
Read on to see where retail catering could take your career…
Who? David Harrington, director, Admiral Recruitment
Your background is in retail catering?
Yes; I started out working part-time in branded restaurants while I was studying. I think that's the best way to enter the sector. You develop a work sense and gain experience and then you are in a good position to get on to your employer's management development programme.
These companies offer good training, then?
Training is important to retail caterers. They tend to have a strong brand identity and they need to train people to deliver it.
Big brands also tend to have a layered management structure, so they use their training programmes to develop people. Through the training you can go on to senior operations within the company or move on to another company.
Where did retail catering take you?
I started working at McDonald's while I was at school, then I moved up the ladder in retail while I studied hotel management at university. I worked in retail catering for a few years when I finished university, then moved over to five-star hotels and destination resorts.
Describe the qualities you need to get up the career ladder
You need commercial acumen and drive. This is a very competitive field and you'll be working with a lot of people, so you need to show flexibility. The hours are long, but you need to go further to prove you can take on responsibility.
Yet you say retail caterers are fun places to work?
If you enjoy the fast-paced retail environment, you'll also benefit from the social life. Staff tend to be close-knit - I particularly noticed it in Pret A Manger stores - and that bond is telling.
Retail catering launched a varied career for you
Yes. I am Australian, and when I came to the UK I chose a change in career and became a recruitment consultant. Essentially, the hospitality degree I took is a business qualification, so I could have taken my career anywhere.
Working in hospitality has given me strong customer service principles and that is often sought after by other industries.
With your consultant hat on, how is the sector faring in the recession?
I think the sector will be more buoyant than most because most of these brands - Subway, McDonald's and so on - are trying to capture the price-conscious market anyway.
One of the biggest retail catering employers in the world is bringing its new concept to London. McDonald's is launching its McCafé brand in the capital this year - and with a target of 1,200 McCafés by the end of 2010 in Europe, a recruitment drive looks likely.
This year the company also aims to provide apprenticeships for up to 6,000 of its 72,000 UK workforce and then up to 10,000 a year from 2010. This will give staff the opportunity to gain a nationally recognised qualification that is equivalent to five GCSEs grade A*-C and will make McDonald's the UK's largest apprenticeship provider.
HOW TO FIND A JOB IN RETAIL CATERING
â- Look for companies with a good track record in training and career development. Think about what future opportunities the company may have, too
â- Find out if you can gain experience in other departments. Adding extra skills to your CV will make you ultra-employable
â- Think about trends and what is going to be big. For instance, the 2012 Olympics means the demand for hospitality workers will rocket so investigate what opportunities might work for you
â- You will need the following qualities: sound financial acumen, creative thinking, confident decision-making and the ability to inspire staff.
Source: David Harrington, director,Admiral Recruitment
- Some 75% of managers have been promoted from team leaders
- Starting salary is £7 an hour after 10 days, including bonus. Many employees get over £8 an hour. The average salary (including bonuses) for general managers is £35,000, and £26,000 for assistant managers
- Pret is made up of small groups of 10 shops led by operations managers. All shops have trainers within their core staff, although there are courses at the company's training academy at London Victoria
- Staff retention is strong. For instance, general manager Collins Obamwanyi began as a team member in Pret's first shop more than 15 years ago, while operations manager Jo Selin joined as a team member in 1995.
[RoadChef motorway services
- There are 27 RoadChef motorway service sites (which saw a £30m refurbishment a few years ago)
- The company has a graduate entry scheme and a training and development programme
- High flyers get the chance to be involved with strategy and move on to higher turnover sites
- A site manager is responsible for all the catering businesses - these include Costa, Wimpy, Pizza Hut Express and own brands. They also oversee all the shops and manage the building, the car park and so on. Plus, as the volume of customers is so huge, there is the challenge of rostering large teams.