Ideal Solution for Hospitality
The hospitality industry is trying to weather a perfect storm created by the impacts of lockdowns and Brexit. Lengthy shutdowns have been followed by shortage of staff, in part due to Brexit, but exacerbated by the so-called ‘ping-demic’ requiring employees to self-isolate, often requiring hospitality kitchens to close at short notice.
Oliver Weeks, Managing Director of Ideal Collection and a passionate supporter of local producers, just may have the 'Ideal' solution. He has radically overhauled working practices, changing shift patterns to improve the work-life balance for staff. Key to this is the newly created role of Head of Production overseeing a centralised production kitchen, based in the events kitchen at one of Ideal Collection’s venues, Kimbridge Barn, near Romsey. This kitchen can step in as required by kitchens across the group (which includes not only Kimbridge Barn, but The White Horse in Otterbourne, The Bugle in Hamble, and Boathouse Cafes in Swanwick and Chichester Marinas). This ensures continuation of food service and consistency of both quality and the all-important focus on local and seasonal across Ideal Collection’s venues.
Oliver Weeks, explains: “I have wanted to create this new role and develop these new working practices for some time, however it has been accelerated by the pandemic and Brexit. This investment will make the business more sustainable in the long term.
"It was my idea, but partly inspired by the Ivy Group’s centralised production. However this is on a much smaller scale. Staffed with highly skilled kitchen personnel, it allows us to maintain control over everything we produce and supports our ethos of using seasonal, fresh and local produce. Supporting local producers is of huge value and importance to our local communities and local economy; it is why we do what we do!
“We’ve got challenges no question. We’ve put incentives in place for our chefs – including a bonus for going on this journey with us. The central production kitchen is in its early stages, but we can build this and grow this. It improves the customer experience by making it more consistent. For example, if an employee needs to self-isolate, it doesn’t close the business down. Our team all pull together; they want us to succeed and keep the business operating.”
James Ashley stepped into the newly created role of Head of Production last month (June 2021), having previously worked for Chris Heather, Ideal Collection’s Executive Chef, for some seven years - including The Greyhound on theTest, The Grosvenor and Wilds Catering, all in Stockbridge.
James explains: “I’m called on and leaned on by the other kitchens when necessary. It is similar to events catering in that we usually know a couple of days beforehand exactly how much is needed and where and we can get everything ordered in and prepped in the production kitchen beforehand.”
James is focused on production most days, but also helps cover other kitchens some evenings and provide support at peak periods. The aim is to ensure better work-life balances for all across the group, particularly as an effect of the pandemic has been a push back against an industry that has routinely involved working every weekend and long hours.
Chris Heather has worked with Oliver Weeks to create this new business model for the Ideal Collection group. He comments: “We want people to know that hospitality doesn’t need to be 14 hour days, seven days a week, and this industry can provide great job opportunities and a good work-life balance.
“Every week my role is different. I am at present back in the kitchen to help other chefs; for example coming here (The White Horse) on a Sunday so that the Head Chef has the day off."
Chris adds, "I am very excited about what we are doing here at Ideal Collection.”
If the aim is to help staff retention, that is something Ideal Collection is already achieving. Sam Pearson, Head Chef at The White Horse, continues: “The team is fantastic, and we are lucky and proud that we’ve kept hold of our staff here in what has been a crazy year!”
Jess Rogers, General Manager at The White Horse, has been with the company for nine years this August and describes her working environment as being like a family.
“We took on more staff to cater for table service when we reopened in April, and we were so busy. We’ve seen a wide range of people including regular faces and new customers following our refurbishment, especially as they realised we have upped our game with a lighter, brighter venue and developed such a good outside offering, too. People have been scrambling to book the garden huts!”
In effect, Oliver’s commitment to local, customers and, particularly, his team, could be a game changer as a model for the hospitality industry.
Oliver again: “It’s about evolving a great pub experience, by changing it centrally and introducing good working practices.”