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Inside track: Wendy Bartlett says keep it simple, stupid

31 August 2019 by

Wendy Bartlett makes the case for keeping faith with the basics, and not changing just for the sake of it

When I started out as a caterer, I thought that catering was literally all I would be doing. Frying an egg, baking a cake, rolling some pastry, then selling it to somebody who would buy it and eat it. Simple.

How wrong I was. I'm all for giving people choice, but sometimes it feels like we're making things far too difficult just for the sake of it.

In the Bartlett Mitchell business, our fundamentals are much the same as when we started, as are our values.

I'm not (and so BM isn't) into overcomplicated food. I want to know my food tastes as stated on the menu and that it has not suffered 12 hours of manhandling. If you have great ingredients cooked by a well-trained chef, you will make something delicious. It is as simple as that.

Operations have changed a great deal too. For a catering manager, it used to be all about the food. Now the poor souls have to risk-assess, allergen-police and generally act like the CEO of a large corporate. It all takes away from the core role.

It is the same with people and service. I believe in keeping it real. It's better to focus on the simple elements in life – much better to go and say hello to someone and to smile rather than focus on some flashy whizz-bang introduction or marketing gimmick. If what you're doing works, why keep changing it? Sure, you need to drive trends, but not for the sake of it. Change should only happen if it makes things better.

I am always saying that when I am prime minister I will…When it comes to some simple day-to-day things I'd like to see changed (the use of demitasse cups at events was the first thing I banned).

I also find the bathroom dance in restaurants hilarious – people waving their hands at taps and walls just to turn them on and off. And don't get me started on hotel room lights!

Technology is brilliant, if it works and helps.

When we go into new contracts, we never issue any systems until we have understood what's going on with the old ones. We only embed technology if it improves the service and delivers what it is that we have set out to do.

In our world, there is significant reporting required. It would be amazing if we could simplify this process. As an ‘area supervisor' back in the day, I used to have to do my client accounts. This consisted of one A4 sheet for the P&L plus an A4 backup sheet with a suitable amount of Tipp-Ex, and that was it. Nowadays it's War and Peace by comparison.

So, if I were prime minister, I'd ask you to vote for my manifesto of keeping it simple. There is nothing wrong with basics. Always think twice about why you're doing something and you'll always do well.

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