Hospitality pays tribute to BaxterStorey co-founder and 'industry great' William Baxter

18 October 2023 by
Hospitality pays tribute to BaxterStorey co-founder and 'industry great' William Baxter

Tributes have been paid to William Baxter, co-founder of contract caterer BaxterStorey and long-standing chair of Hospitality Action, who has died aged 63.

During an illustrious career Baxter founded a series of trailblazing catering companies that changed the landscape of the foodservice sector in the UK.

After stepping back from day-to-day responsibilities at BaxterStorey, which he led alongside friend and colleague Alastair Storey, he joined Hospitality Action as chair in 2010 and went on to spearhead programmes that have helped thousands of people working across hospitality. He also served as chairman of Scannappeal, a charity supporting NHS hospitals and services in Buckinghamshire, was a lifetime patron of Springboard and a trustee of the MESV Trust.

Paying tribute, Storey, chairman and chief executive of BaxterStorey's parent company WSH, said: "I am devastated to hear of the very untimely passing of my friend, former colleague, fellow founder of our business and industry great, William Baxter.

"William was a very special person with an incredible ability to engage with everyone and he is much loved by all of us in the hospitality industry. He was an entrepreneur to the core and his enthusiasm and generosity of spirit were an inspiration to so many of us.

"I consider it a privilege to have known him for so many years and we had a lot of fun working and relaxing together. William always saw the good in everyone and was extremely adept at helping all of us to give our best.

"His work in recent years for both Hospitality Action and Scannappeal is a testament to his desire to make the world a better place. We will miss him terribly."

Baxter was honoured with the Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2014 Cateys, one of numerous accolades he won during a hugely successful career, which included a CBE in 2010.

His beginnings in hospitality had been relatively humble. A stint as a pot washer was followed by a period of study in hotel and catering before he joined P&O's Sutcliffe Catering as an assistant manager.

From there, his star rose rapidly and by the age of 23 Baxter was an area manager with responsibility for 17 sites in London's West End.

He would go on to be a leading figure in three successful business entities that all carried his name. Baxter & Platts, formed in 1987 with Robert Platts, quickly established a reputation as a quality business that offered a fair deal to clients and staff alike and saw the pair pick up the Foodservice Caterer Award at the 1996 Cateys.

After selling the business to Granada for an estimated £16m, Baxter was by no means ready to rest on his laurels and later reflected that he could either sit at home making coffee or go to work and "be somebody".

In 2000, he launched BaxterSmith with friend and former Baxter & Platts director Mike Smith, and the pair's proven track record quickly led to the business becoming a competitive player on the catering scene.

But perhaps the most pivotal business move came when BaxterSmith merged with Wilson Storey Halliday (WSH), to form BaxterStorey, bringing together two of the industry's greatest entrepreneurial brains in Baxter and Storey, the latter of whom won the Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2021 Cateys.

Baxter's infectious charm and a level of candour, rare among executives, undoubtedly contributed to the success of the company, which became the largest independent catering business in the UK.

Speaking to The Caterer in 2007, Storey and Baxter said the attraction of merging WSH and BaxterSmith had been to take on the marketplace and create something new.

Storey said: "WSH was good with IT systems, and from a flair and creativity point of view BaxterSmith was ahead of us. So if you put the two together, you've got more than the sum of its parts."

When Baxter stepped back from day-to-day responsibilities at the company he turned his attention to the many charities that he supported. He became chair of Hospitality Action in 2010 and held the position until 2023 when the baton was passed to Jonathan Raggett, chief executive of Red Carnation Hotels.

Baxter dedicated an enormous amount of time and energy to his role at Hospitality Action. He was instrumental in transforming the way the charity is funded and how it helps those in need.

In particular, he oversaw the inception and rollout of the Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) – arguably one of the most radical and effective initiatives in Hospitality Action's history.

Mark Lewis, chief executive of Hospitality Action, said: "William's generosity and warmth of spirit was unparalleled. He brought the same joie de vivre to his chairing of Hospitality Action as he did to every other aspect of his life. Being around William for any length of time taught you a valuable lesson: live life to the full, and do good to others.

"William was an inspiring leader, and always encouraged us to be brave and to innovate.

"It's no exaggeration to say that the lives of many thousands of hospitality families have been improved as a direct result of his dedication to Hospitality Action."

Tributes to Baxter, who was known as Bill, have been paid from across the foodservice sector, including by Wendy Bartlett, co-founder of Bartlett Mitchell, now BM, who said: "Bill is an icon in our industry and someone absolutely everyone loved and aspired to be like.

"He was a big reason behind why we started BM. He was an inspiration and a mentor; when I first mentioned launching the business to him, he said ‘just get on with it'.

"He has been my greatest supporter, a very good friend and tirelessly dedicated to this industry. He made a massive impact – we will all miss him terribly."

Clive Jacobs, chairman of The Caterer and parent company Jacobs Media Group, said: "William Baxter was a creative and charismatic leader, whose natural business acumen was integral in creating companies that have transformed the foodservice sector.

"As chair of Hospitality Action he was pivotal in driving forward schemes that have provided support to many thousands of people working in the industry and had an immeasurable impact. His generosity and natural charm will be enormously missed by the wider industry."

Bill Toner, CEO of CH&Co said: "Bill is someone I've admired and respected for many years, what he has achieved on a business level is outstanding, what he has given back to the industry and his commitment to Hospitality Action has been wonderful.

"He will be missed and recognised as an industry legend. My heartfelt condolences go out to his heartbroken family."

Please send your tributes to

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