HTA catering conference hears TV star on customer service

This month's HTA catering conference heard about the importance of areas such as service and training from maitre 'd Fred Siriex and Dobbies garden centres' Anthony Hester.

Fred Sireix, general manager of Michelin-starred Galvin at Windows in the Park Lane Hilton, London, also emphasised the importance of customer service. "It’s the same everywhere – it’s about making people feel special," he said. "It’s the customer that pays your wages, the company just handles the money. You have to put yourself in their shoes, and understand their journey right from the initial phone call."

The TV star of Channel 4's First Dates said with up to 100 staff at any one time, many of them foreign, "training is at the heart of what we do – a good induction takes six weeks", he said. "They must share your vision – many companies have a vision bit don’t live by it."

This includes small details such as making sure all the taps work in the toilets, as institutions are judged on such things, he added. "They will then look to validate their view by finding other faults. A hundred pairs of eyes are better than one at spotting them first."

To ensure profitability, "Decide what your perfect bill looks like, then put yourself in that customer’s shoes. What has led to it? Up-selling is an ugly word – they should feel they are being sold to."

Dobbies head of restaurants Anthony Hester also highlighted the importance of training in such areas as coffee making, where "operational discipline" means staff following a defined process. In this, heated cup racks "give you a different drink", while being careless with milk "is money down the drain". Meanwhile push-button machines "have had a bad reputation in the past, but can give you a great cup".

The company has set itself the target of serving five customers every five minutes. "It’s starting to work for us. If you don’t measure it, you can’t drive performance." He recommended StarChef recipe and menu management software as "it helps us with the margins", while Table Tracker service analyser "isn’t cheap but is worth every penny as it lets you benchmark – are you serving your mains within 10 minutes?"

The Thermodyne food warming unit meanwhile "keeps fried food crispy and won’t shrink roast meats", while pizza ovens "also do a good shepherd’s pie".

"We are big believers in social media," he added. "One Facebook post can reach 40,000 people, so spend money on good photography."

Bradford’s Tong Garden Centre was taken over by Mark Farnsworth and Tom Megginson in May last year. "It used to be Yorkshire’s leading garden centre but needed so TLC," Farnsworth said. "Catering was small with sales just 10 per cent of turnover."

Following an extensive refurbishment it now has separate restaurant and coffee shop, and shared patio, while the William’s Farm Kitchen within the food hall serves as an on-site bakery and butchery, and "an opportunity to shout about our food provenance", commercial manager Sharon McNair said. "I would love for everything in the coffee shop to be made on-site."

A five-year plan anticipates growth to £2m turnover, or 20 per cent of the centre’s total, she added. "The challenge is to make it flow and to cope with future growth."

HTA academy and careers manager Penny Evans pointed out that failure to train staff properly has led to the recent prosecution for manslaughter of a restaurant where a man died from a peanut allergy. "You need knowledgeable, motivated staff and clear leadership. Customers should receive the same standard of service at every touch point. But the goalposts move and their expectations change. How do you make training exciting and relevant?"

She said the HTA’s Academy programme "offers interactive, directional learning that you can implement in your business". Focussing on sales assistant level, "it is easy to navigate – you can find what you want, pay for it online and deliver it yourself," adding: "We want your feedback on this."

See more in HW next issue.

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