Fourteen of the UK's AA-rosette catering colleges entered this year's competition for the AA College Restaurant of the Year Award. The title race is now down to just three of them, as Katherine Alano reports
There's a nervous yet excitable buzz in the room when you walk into the Plaza suite at the Park Plaza London Riverbank hotel. But maybe that's to be expected when college restaurant teams from across the UK are preparing to present to a panel of expert judges and a leading chef in the hope of walking away with the title of AA College Restaurant of the Year.
Following a day-long judging process in June, three colleges have been shortlisted for the award. The winner will be revealed at the annual AA Hospitality Awards dinner on 25 September at Grosvenor House, A JW Marriott Hotel, London.
South Cheshire College's Academy restaurant, Fareham College's Avenue 141 and Milton Keynes College's the Brasserie saw off 11 other UK colleges to get onto the final shortlist.
Now in its second year, the AA College Restaurant of the Year Award is open to colleges that have been accredited by People 1st and achieved an AA college rosette.
This year, the 14 colleges taking part were given a series of activities to stimulate engagement and idea generation. The tasks included designing a new business venture for four-AA-rosette and multi-award-winning chef Tom Kerridge, who was also on hand to listen to their plans and offer advice and support.
Prior to the presentation day in June, each college was asked to prepare a SWOT (strength, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) analysis of its own restaurant using the most recent report from the AA as well as any other feedback from employers, learners and customers. Two members of each college team presented these findings, along with changes and developments they would like to implement.
The 14 teams were also asked to create a three-minute video to showcase their college facility to prospective students. The scores for the videos, the SWOT analysis and how they participated on the day were all taken into account in selecting the final three.
Reflecting on each pitch, Kerridge told The Caterer: "Every single idea was different, which amazed me. And every single one could have worked, whether it was a co-operative farm shop, setting up a high-end restaurant, another pub or outside catering. No one went for the straight, safe option, and they all looked at how they could diversify the business and brand. It showed real thought. And for it to come from 18-year-olds was really special because they are the future of the industry."
Impressed by the quality of their research, Kerridge added: "I remember thinking I need to employ all these people to drive the business forward because all their ideas were great and they all could work."
Kerridge believes that not only does this kind of competition allow the AA to encourage young people to get into the industry, but it also gives the students at the colleges an opportunity to gain an understanding of what guidebooks such as the AA's are looking for from businesses.
Over the course of the day, the college teams were interviewed by a judging panel that included Rob Flinter, general manager at Park Plaza London Riverbank, Sean Wheeler, director of people development at Principal Hotels, and Julian Tomlin, general manager and group director of operations for Exclusive Hotels and Venues.
What the judges said
"Once again we were blown away by the quality of the entries from the student and lecturer teams, and the energy and enthusiasm in the room was clear for all to see."
Garry Baldwin, senior hotel and restaurant inspector with the AA
Sean Wheeler, chair of the People 1st accreditation panel and director of people development at Principal Hotels
The AA College Restaurant of the Year Award
The AA College Restaurant of the Year Award has been developed by the AA in partnership with People 1st to recognise accredited colleges within the AA college rosette scheme that have shown outstanding achievements in a realistic working environment. The AA college rosette scheme is designed to recognise the efforts of students, both front and back of house, who are the future of the hospitality industry.
- Garry Baldwin Senior inspector, AA hotel services
- Andy Doyle Membership operations manager, People 1st
- Rob Flinter General manager, Park Plaza London Riverbank
- Martine Pullen Director of consulting and apprenticeships, People 1st
- Julian Tomlin Group operations manager, Exclusive Hotels and Venues
- Sean Wheeler Chairman, People 1st hospitality accreditation panel and director of people development, Principal Hotels
- Stephen Wilkinson Senior inspector, AA hotel services
The 14 colleges competing in 2017 were
- Bournemouth and Poole College
- Bradford College
- Cardiff and Vale College
- City College Norwich
- Fareham College
- Hopwood Hall College, Rochdale
- Milton Keynes College
- Peterborough Regional College
- Shrewsbury College
- South Cheshire College
- Stafford College
- Trafford College
- Truro and Penwith College
- Westminster Kingsway College