The catering industry exposed!!!
Ok so... lets come clean this may not be the hard hitting catering expose that the headline suggested but as your hear why not settle down to an interview with one of the co-owners of LA catering Alan Peacock.
Are you interested in owning your own business? Want an insight to the catering industry? Want to know what makes LA catering tick? What food does a catering manager eat at home or simply want to get a feel for day to day life in a busy kitchen? Well, wait no longer...
1. Hi, how are you today?
Cold... our kitchen doesn't have a lot of heating so I'm trying to shelter in the office for a while with a coffee and a massive to do list.
2. What time did you get in to work this morning?
9.30am. Lynne was on the early this morning which meant I could take the kids to school before work. We tend to take it in turns each day so we could be in as early as 5.30am on a busy day... typically 6am though.
3. How long have you been your own boss?
8 years now, I think I would struggle to go back although sometimes I do hanker after the simplicity of working for someone. Also when you work with a business partner it is a little different as you always feel a responsibility for them too.
4. Why did you get in to catering?
You might be better asking Lynne this question. She always wanted to be in catering and studied and worked hard to get where she is. I on the other hand sort of got in by mistake. My friend helped me get my first part time position at Glasgow Science centre and his passion and my competitiveness got me hooked. We'd compete to see who made the best and fastest coffees and who could clean tables the quickest etc. Daft things that helped shifts go quickly but from very early on it was about a pride in your performance and in what you produce. If you don't have that you won't get anywhere in this industry. After that I saw some quick rewards and promotions for my hard work and enthusiasm which I found more rewarding than my studies at the time. It was also a great thing to do when I was younger and I played a lot of music. I could arrange shifts around gigs and rehearsals and take extra shifts when things were quiet. From then on I just went from strength to strength and food became my passion.
5. What is your favourite food?
Pretty much anything with too much garlic and lemon. I like it simple... something like a king prawn, garlic and chorizo linguine. Or a rib eye steak with fondant potatoes and an awesome sauce. And Lynne's lasagne which has to be tried to be believed.
6. Where is your favourite place to eat?
The best meal I had recently was at Martin Wishart's restaurant in Loch Lomond. However, you can't beat a pizza from Little Italy on Byers road.
My personal top 5 in no particular order
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7. What was your career path up to this point?
I've got to this point through experience, working hard (most of the time) and showing a willingness and passion to learn and produce the best food and experiences I could for customers.
I began as a catering assistant and worked up in the same organisation to Assistant Manager. It is important to say that this was in a venue with multiple retail outlets in the same venue and large and varied banqueting facilities so it gave me a large amount of experience, much like working in a hotel which I'd recommend to anyone looking for experience.
Looking for a change I then went to a well known coffee brand beginning as Assistant and progressing to Store Manager after 2 weeks (my boss at the time left their keys to the shop in the shutter lock overnight) He was sacked shortly after... So I can't take total credit for that one.
Following that I assisted in a project at National trust for Scotland where their catering was being overhauled and a new offer being put in place. Throughout all this time I also managed events for an outside catering company managing weddings, corporate events and everything in between at a huge variety of venues.
My final position before starting my own business was in charge of retail and hospitality in the original venue I started my career at so it was great to go full circle.
8. What are the main challenges of having your own business?
Staff, Staff and Cash flow!
You can't do a lot without staff but at the same time they can often cause you the biggest issues, through lateness, personal issues or just poor standards of work. We try to treat our staff well to encourage a low turnover and to encourage the best from them, but sometimes you have to be brave and go through staff to get to the good ones that really want to work for you and add value.
Cash flow can be an issue as in the UK big corporates seem to think they have some right to hold off paying you for as long as possible with little sign of concern for your business or the staff reliant on you. I heard a statistic that it costs our economy about £2bn a year due to small businesses going out of business. Shocking!
9. What is it like to work in the catering industry?
Hmm... I think like most industries it has it's good and bad points. The people are great and it really attracts "real" characters who have lived and love life. There's little pretense, which I love as you know where you stand with people. Chef's are a nightmare... they will agree I'm sure. For every great one there's about five or six pretending to be. Myself and Lynne have had the privilege to work with some brilliant chefs from who we learned a lot. I could tell you some fairly ridiculous stories about the chefs I've worked with.
FOH Vs BOH. The eternal battle between front of house and back of house will forever rage on. I'll let you in to a secret... sshhh... lean in close... *looks to see if anyone's listening* They're both to blame for whatever went wrong and both responsible for what went right but they won't believe you.
The creative aspect of it is what really excites me, making new menus and discovering new flavours and produce. Being able to produce a menu for someone's finger buffet, canape reception or VIP board meeting and seeing it through from concept to finished dish gives great job satisfaction. Events are similar, when you first meet with a client months (if not years) in advance about their seminar, wedding or product launch and then managing the event through after meticulous planning is an absolute buzz.
However, catering and the food/hospitality industry has long been undervalued in the UK in my opinion and it is still much the same now. Everyone thinks they are a caterer to a certain extent so it makes it a challenge sometimes when interacting with clients and the public for them to see the value in what you do. It is also well underpaid in my opinion for the work and expertise that is needed compared to many other industries which is very much a symptom of my point prior.