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Food for thought: bon appetit!

By 20th January 2016Blog
Catering Conference

Henry Watts, CEO catering

For someone who has worked in the food industry for quite some time, it may come as a surprise to learn that I don’t actually enjoy cooking a great deal. This isn’t to say I’m not passionate about culinary adventures and experiences – because I am. I just prefer it when someone else cooks!

I love dining out and trying new restaurants. I can fully appreciate the skill level of such Michelin starred haunts, but more often I’m looking for a place that offers quality food and great service at a reasonable price, in relaxed surroundings. Whilst I thoroughly appreciate good food, for me, it’s all about achieving ‘the perfect balance’.

I recently went to Chamonix where I was surprised at the number of quality restaurants. Even though it is a tourist area the diners there were mostly locals and the food is classic French. The service was impeccable and the surroundings were perfect. Certainly down as one of my favourite recent dining experiences.

I feel as though it all comes back to this balance; from service, to food quality, surroundings and choice. I often think about why I would return to a particular restaurant and then seek to incorporate these ‘touch points’ into the training and planning in our own business. Servest is a people business; and people are an imperative part of any dining experience. Good service can make a good meal feel great…but unfortunately the reverse is also true!

My favourite cuisine has to be French. I love food that is cooked using fresh, traditional ingredients; used at a time when they’re at their absolute best. I appreciate all elements of French dining, but perhaps more than anything else what I love is the simple value the French attach to buying and eating good food as part of daily life.

So I’ve discussed what I love… perhaps I should reveal what I ‘like a little less’. I’ll be honest; I’m not fully on-board with the idea of pop up restaurants and street food vendors for the simple reason that these outlets aren’t as rigorously regulated as other establishments. Caterers and restaurateurs have to abide by many strict health and safety codes – and rightly so. As such, our mantra is putting the safety of our team members and customers first and foremost. Some street vendors and pop up venues don’t follow these regulations to anywhere near the same extent and neither do they seem to be enforced. This doesn’t sit well with me because I believe these outlets should be regulated more thoroughly, and that there should be more guidelines in place so they’re aligned with other food service providers and incur the costs that other operators are obliged to incur. Quality and food safety shouldn’t be forsaken in the pursuit of a ‘trendy’ offering.

Contract caterers are often accused by ‘industry commentators’ of not being contemporary enough and there’s this idea that we’re unable to compete with the quick serve high street operators. In my opinion, this couldn’t be further from the truth. We have to keep up and move with our customers’ demands and with generations Y and of late Z joining the workforce now, we are increasingly seeing a demand for more varied, multicultural ‘grab and go’ and quick serve options. We would be foolish not to accommodate the needs and wants of these millennials and so we incorporate contemporary and ‘on trend’ concepts into our clients’ sites wherever we can. Unlike the formulaic high street operators, we change our menus at our catering sites on a daily basis. This extensive menu offering allows us to ensure that we only use high quality and fresh ingredients.

We are incredibly lucky at Servest to work with some of the most talented people in the UK food industry. Whether team members are operators, chefs, front or back of house assistants the skill level and enthusiasm across our sites and kitchens unceasingly amazes me and, in my opinion, is far higher than the skills of the high street quick serve market. Food service caterers are an increasingly important part of the UK food sector. As an industry, we need to raise the profile of the sector and attract more potential talent in the workforce.

Speaking of high street chains, it’s time to confess my guilty pleasure… a fast-food breakfast holds a special place in – and probably around my heart, and I am sure my satnav is on ‘auto divert’ into every Drive Thru in the Midlands. You always know what you’re going to get and what it will cost. It’s consistent. And therein lies the dichotomy of everything I have said above about ‘high street’ operators… in small doses, I love them and they also re-inforce that food is about achieving that ‘perfect balance’!

And, finally, if I were to choose a last meal, it wouldn’t be filet mignon with béarnaise sauce, or cassoulet, or even coq au vin… it’d be a few slices of good British ham with egg and chips, and a slice of white bread and butter. A meal I can readily eat anytime any day.

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