Last May, a few months into the Covid pandemic we sat down with Ian Thomas, CEO, Bartlett Mitchell to get his view on all things Covid and catering. Since then the world of catering has continued to adapt within a previously unseen business landscape, and Bartlett Mitchell was acquired by WSH. So, we arranged to sit down with Ian again to get an update.
Firstly, following the government’s roadmap published on Monday, what does it mean for you?
Like the whole sector, we were waiting with baited breath to see if there was some positive news coming out of Government with regards to the reopening. Whilst the roadmap offered some light at the end of this very dark tunnel, it was disappointing to see hospitality sit so low down in the pecking order. Particularly when the ONS data already proved the hospitality industry was not a catalyst in the 2020 infection rates.
The ‘data not dates’ approach may sound great as a news headline, but it does create further uncertainty for businesses looking to plan ahead. Our clients need more certainty which naturally filters down to us too.
What is clear that, after 29th of March, our clients can encourage their employees to return to offices, without breaking any laws.
Each client will of course make their own decision on return to office planning, and take advice. However, catering on site will be allowed if needed.
Event hospitality can thankfully start after May 17th.
This staged and phased approach reinforces the need for more flexible solutions to help our clients manage the challenges of not knowing how and when normal service will resume.
It’s also worth noting the Government offer to extend (until the end of June) the regular and free testing for asymptomatic people who have to leave home for work.
We are looking forward to the 3rd March Budget, and what further economic support the chancellor will outline to businesses that remain closed.
Finally, we look forward to receiving the Government’s updates on revised social distancing measures and COVID-Secure guidance (how to improve fresh air flow in indoor workplaces) and introduce regular testing to reduce risk. As ever, the devil is in the detail!
What is clear is that, as soon as clients decide to hit the ‘resume’ button, caterers will be ready. We, like many others are starting the re-induction training process to get match-fit, whilst also focusing on the wellness of our teams and customers.
How have contract caterers coped in recent months?
Like any progressive business, we’ve had to look at different solutions to support our clients through this period and also ensure that we are able to sustain working opportunities for our own teams.
Team engagement has been a huge part of what we have been doing. We’ve had weekly events for our teams which have included chef ‘throw-downs’, inspirational speakers, ‘Mindful Monday’s, ‘Wellness Wednesdays’, mental health training, motivational comms through our Yammer and Yapster platforms, and many many others.
This has been vital in keeping ourselves connected and engaged, maintaining positivity and purpose.
Outside of this, we have gone to great lengths to support our clients, extending the tools we’ve developed to their teams as well through masterclasses, cook at home demos, recipe sharing, videos etc.
Also, we’ve had to look at diversifying our services to ensure we are meeting the evolving needs of our clients. This is how Mosaic, our new hospitality model, was born.
Tell us about mosaic – how does it work?
It gives clients the opportunity to access catering, reception & FOH services across all the WSH brands. The model enables clients to adjust and adapt the volume depending on their needs, using as much or as little of our services as they require, essentially having us on ‘retainer’ to meet any requirements they may have.
It bridges the B2B and B2C markets, allowing clients to reach out to their teams that are currently working at home by creating new engagement tools and activities and gives them the ability to perform day to day requirements at site level or more ad hoc, collaborative events either virtually at their employees homes or at their premises.
Why is this important now?
We live in uncertain times, and agility is really important right now. Mosaic gives clients one trusted partner, across a multitude of services. It is managed by one of our fabulous directors and offers a wide range of services from some of the most highly regarded brands in the business.
We want to give clients an option. We know how hard the situation is which is why it is important that we all work together to make the best of what is happening around us.
Who is likely to use it?
There are essentially two types of organisation that will find this model useful.
Firstly, those that previously had full-service outsourced contract catering contracts. These businesses have a degree of uncertainty that they require elements of the full-service model when they reopen, but won’t know to what extent. As things gradually ramp up, they’ll potentially want services on a more ad-hoc basis, with a real requirement for home-worker engagement through food boxes, or virtual events.
Though many businesses will return to a five day week, many others are already working on more flexible working patterns with people using the office space in a different way.
The office is likely to be less used for transactional activities, with many having learned to perform well working from home, but much more as a space for creativity, collaboration and engagement.
The other type of customer will be those who previously couldn’t justify a full contract catering contract, instead choosing a delivered in option. These will be keen to look at models like Mosaic.
Both types of clients are looking for flexible solutions which can adapt and move from the short-term transitional period i.e. Mosaic, to a blended approach mid-term (Mosaic/on-site staffing part-time) then long-term a potential return to a full contract model.
How have you been able to benefit from being part of the WSH Group business?
It has been fantastic to date. We are remaining as an independent company alongside other great businesses, but now have access to a much wider infrastructure of quality brands.
I’m sure we will be able to support each other and create an offer that is going to help clients and teams during the recovery period. Mosaic is testament to this, but there are lots of other activities which have already come to fruition as a result of this.
What do you see contract catering looking like in 12 months’ time?
Nobody has a crystal ball and, unfortunately, things are still very fluid. There will no doubt be a return to the pre-covid norms for some organisations, but it is unlikely it will ever be at the same scale as it was.
Organisations have adapted to the situation brilliantly and embraced new technology and working practices at a hugely accelerated rate. That won’t just disappear. As the sector and wider economy recovers, we believe that we will see an increase in the blended approach from traditional contract models. We’re confident many businesses will be keen to adopt our new Mosaic model whilst they navigate the changes.
H&C News would like to thank Ian for his time and insight to Mosaic, WSH, and the future of contract catering, or should we now say subscription catering.
News from the hospitality and catering industry is also being featured extensively in our Facebook and twitter social media accounts with the opportunity to engage with others in hospitality and share your views.
Hospitality & Catering News: Catching up on all things catering with Ian Thomas. – 25 February 2021 – Catching up on all things catering with Ian Thomas.
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