As the importance of F&B continues to hit home in the hotel industry and the number of franchised and managed properties continues to grow, it was only a matter of time before the worlds of contract catering and hotel F&B collided.
Though it has been something of a hushed subject, hotels outsourcing their catering is clearly another growing element of the industry.
In July, news broke that Flourish Food Solutions had been appointed to run the F&B offering at the Wychnor Park in the Midlands and Thurnham Hall in Lancaster, part of Diamond Resorts hotel group, which owns 379 properties in 35 countries, 17 of which are in the UK.
Flourish was set up by Ian Boden, former National Chef of the Year finalist, in 2013 as a service provider to the food industry, assisting with everything from concept creating and consulting, through to training and procurement.
We speak to Boden about how Flourish has gone one stage further, moving from advising to managing restaurants outright.
Hi Ian, let’s start with how Flourish got involved with Diamond Resorts?
We set the company up five years ago, under the pretence of it being a service provider for the foodservice industry. Basically, it helps give people the infrastructure to serve their purpose and deliver the F&B they want.
Diamond very much works on the basis that it outsources its F&B. They are property people rather than food people. But it wanted to make sure it still gives its guests the best service it possibly can. We saw the opportunity and we went for it.
It’s a natural progression for us. Usually we are looking at people’s infrastructure and how they operate. But here we can do the whole job for ourselves.
h2. So, what were the first steps?
We want to make the sites individual. In the past, you may have seen a ‘Flourish at Wychnor Park Hotel’ restaurant, for example, but what we wanted to do was be a part of the hotel rather than create a ‘them and us’ scenario.
So, we renamed the restaurants to something meaningful, so the Horatio Bar and the Walpole Restaurant at Wychnor Hotel are named after the former owner, Horatio Walpole.
As far as the guests are concerned, they don’t really care who is doing what – as far as they are concerned, it is one business. So, we were really keen to get involved and to respect what Diamond Resorts were doing, too.
Flourish began working with Wychnor Park in March, which has since seen a 32% increase in F&B sales. Was this the reason you have moved into Thurnham Hall as well?
The first week we were in Wychnor Park, it just so happened that it coincided with the Diamond Resorts AGM and the response to the food was amazing. They were really quite impressed with what we were able to deliver within such a short time of being there.
After talking to regional heads, they felt that what we were doing at Wychnor would fit in really well at Thurham Hall, so within a week of starting at Wychnor we had started to talk about taking on Thurnham, too.
The current food provider there and Diamond came to a mutual decision to end what they were doing, and we went in there with two weeks’ notice. With just two weeks to change something and create something new is not easy, but with our structure and experience this is something we can continue.
Is contract catering or the outsourcing of F&B a route more hotels will go down?
It works from both sides. For most hotels, unless they are operator-owned and have a strong F&B background, F&B can be a tough area to manage. You have got to find the right person to run it on your behalf.
This way, however, you can help support each other; with staff issues and rising costs, it can be a challenging time out there at the moment. So we are happy to do it as a standalone Flourish-branded restaurant or come under a flag and operate it for a hotel.
A bit like White Label Catering?
Exactly. Bringing that sort of principle to the hotel world. It is what you would do in the contract caterer world or the corporate side of things, so why not hotels?
h2. Although primarily aimed at hotel guests, is Flourish aiming to establish the F&B outlets as key players in the local areas’ dining scenes?
We are covering anything F&B within the hotels and events. We want to make the hotel a place where people from outside want to use it for an event or function, and that is starting to pay dividends at Wychnor Park now, too. It will bring in people to the hotel from the local area, but also, from a revenue point of view, you are no longer just relying on those people staying in the hotel to eat there.
Is Flourish responsible for all menus, staff and training across the hotel?
We want to be in control of the bar menu and room service menu because we believe that they can be uniform across the different sites. This can work from an allergens point of view and a purchasing point of view.
We have to cater for what the hotel needs, so not just people that want fine-dining. There has to be an option for people that want to come down for a drink and a burger in a relaxed atmosphere, too. We want to make sure that is being delivered.
But we also believe that chefs are creative people, and from a restaurant menu perspective, we are keen for them to develop their own offer and express themselves at their individual sites.
We will work alongside them to support it and get it to where we want it to be. We need to have control, but we also need to give them an opportunity to show what they can do.
The other key parts include the front-of-house manager – we have to give them the right training as well. One thing we know is that you have to put effort into your training, to make sure kitchen and front-of-house staff can deliver the right guest experience. We have got to make sure we get both sides right.
Will you be working closely with Diamond Resorts to ensure the success of the restaurants?
It is key for both sides to be fully involved. We will be working with them on outside advertising and we’re marketing it from our side, too. They want to develop and improve their brand working alongside us and we have to make sure they are happy, because if they aren’t, we won’t be there much longer.
More important is customer happiness. If the customer is happy and the hotels can see the benefit of that, hopefully it will be a long relationship.