Marking the start of the festive season, the Arena Christmas Event returned to the magnificent Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park. Headlining the event and bringing the 2018 calendar of Arena Events to a fantastic close was Michael Caines MBE. The esteemed and celebrated chef shared the story of his successful career to date, including his culinary inspirations, his journey with Lympstone Manor and the planting of the vineyard, plus his plans and aspirations and his thoughts on the key issues affecting the industry. Industry commentator, Peter Backman, presented an exclusive industry insight session and debate that explored the high street’s influence and looked at what the future may hold for the foodservice and hospitality industry.
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On Monday 3 December 2018, Arena was thrilled to return to the stunning Mandarin Oriental Hotel Hyde Park (the natural home of the Arena Christmas Event) and even more excited to be the very first official event to take place in the magnificent ballroom since its refurbishment.
Lorraine Wood, Arena’s director said: “What an absolute pleasure to be back, and a privilege to be the first event in the newly refurbished ballroom! The venue looked stunning and the hotel team was as welcoming as ever. They were genuinely excited to have us back and they looked after us so well.”
The day of insight, inspiration and education began with another Arena tradition, the annual review by industry commentator Peter Backman.
In his whistle-stop tour of the events and topics that influenced and shaped the 2018 hospitality landscape, which Peter aptly described as a ‘rollercoaster sector’, the headlines included: The Beast from the East, which had a significant impact on the whole market at the beginning of the year; a changing supply scene that has seen acquisitions such as Brakes/KFF and Tesco/Booker; increasing focus on plants and plastics; reduced investor confidence; World Cup fever, which boosted beer and pub sales; great weather, again good for pubs but not so good for restaurants unless they had an outdoor area; the continued impact of delivery; allergens, with Pret an obvious casualty; and, of course, the ever-present question of Brexit, on which there is no clarity but plenty of contradiction.
As always, there have been winners and losers throughout the year, with those with the methodology and consistency to motor on being the success stories. Examples of these came in the form of Wetherspoons, Wagamama and Nandos.
There’s no denying, it’s been a tough year with minimal sector growth and squeezed margins, but in an industry that always bounces back, Peter’s advice was to be realistic about the tough bits and take action accordingly!
Looking forward to 2019, the best strategy is to prepare for uncertainty and execute effectively.
Joining Peter in conversation to talk about how to plan for the unplannable were Rob Liddiard, the Founder and CEO of Yapster, and Klaus Goeldenbot, the Group Chief Executive of Nisbets PLC.
Summarising the opportunity and excitement that characterises the sector, Rob stated that in a huge industry there is still incredible demand. There are losers but also epic winners in such a scale market, and if you can compete, you’ll do well.
When considering what we can do to weather the potential 2019 storm, Klaus was very clear. Firstly, do the basics brilliantly. In the Nisbets daily customer satisfaction survey, 90% of the areas of complaint are because the basics are not done brilliantly. And, conversely, the positive feedback is when the basics are done well, and people have gone the extra mile. Secondly, you need to really listen to your customers. Understand what keeps them up at night and innovate to find solutions that solve the pain points. Thirdly, understand that customer experience is the biggest differentiator. Anyone can sell a commodity, but it’s the experience that makes you stand out. Finally, look after your people and they will look after the customer, it’s what Klaus calls the magic triangle.
Rob agreed and championed incremental innovation; always giving your customers and people something that is better and incremental to where you currently are. He also stressed the importance of being clear on your company mission and why you exist. Speak to the key people in your organisation and if they don’t get it or buy into it, they have to change – there will always be others that will get it!
Following a festive drinks reception, where attendees enjoyed the opportunity to catch up with old colleagues and make new connections, lunch was served in the luxurious ballroom.
Attendees earned their lunch with a quiz-style game focused on the soft drinks market, courtesy of Britvic Soft Drinks, and with the winner declared, a delicious three-course lunch was served, and the lively conversations continued.
After lunch, the popular, well-known and respected chef, Michael Caines MBE, took to the stage and took the audience on the incredible journey that led to the realisation of his dream, Lympstone Manor.
19 years of Michael’s career was spent at Gidleigh Park in Devon, where for 18 years he held two Michelin stars. Michael described his time there as: “A love affair, but when I asked it to marry me it said no! I needed to find something to marry up with.”
This took the form of Lympstone Manor, a dilapidated manor house, once owned by the Baring family, set in 28 acres overlooking the Exe estuary. The gorgeous Georgian house needed a lot of TLC, it had been in decline since the 1900s, but with such an incredible viewpoint, Michael knew it was ‘the one’.
“Before you can build something, you need to take it apart,” explained Michael, and that’s exactly what he did. With a £10million investment, the Grade 2 listed building was gutted and ‘hotel proofed’ to make it fit and safe for purpose. Using artisan craftsmen, the manor was lovingly restored. It stays true to the beautiful structure and interior, but also embraces the future, reflecting the lifestyles of the hotel’s modern clientele, who live in connected houses.
Lympstone Manor is an outstanding country house hotel for the 21st century. It’s designed to bring the landscape to life and make people feel something as they ‘experience the exceptional’. It was named the ‘most romantic hotel’ by The Times and Conde Naste.
Not one of the 21 bedrooms looks or feels the same. The wallpaper is painted by local artists and each room is named after the birds of the estuary, with the décor inspired by the colour of their plumage. Furniture is bespoke, and sculptures and artwork are placed by local artists. And, as hospitality is all about generosity, the rooms are luxurious and generous, with bath tubs, gin trays, Nespresso machines and GHD hair straighteners, for example.
The kitchen is at the heart of the hotel and the three dining rooms evoke intimacy and luxury but in an unpretentious and relaxing way. Impressively, the venue was awarded a Michelin star within six months of opening. The food is influenced by the landscape and is seasonal and local.
Looking after the environment and delivering guilt-free pleasure is part of Lympstone Manor’s ethos. Road miles are reduced by buying local, with fish, for example, coming from Exmouth, and other areas of focus include electric vehicle points, buggies, a focus on the reduction of single-use plastic and bee hives.
Lympstone Manor also boasts a vineyard, which was planted in spring of this year, and signified the fulfilment of Michael’s ambition to own a hotel, restaurant and vineyard. This is a massive USP for the venue, as English wine is very exciting.
The area has a microclimate that lends itself to wine, so Michael transformed ten and a half acres of baron land into a vineyard in a matter of days. 2018 has been the best year yet for English wine and the hot weather was great for establishing the vineyard. 17,500 vines were planted that will yield 20,000 bottles a year, with the first bottles coming in 2024.
Michael has invested heavily in telling his story and marketing Lympstone Manor, with great success.
Trading since April 2017, it turned over £4.3million net in the first year – not bad for a 21-room hotel! Michael puts the success down to a fantastic team and attention to detail in everything, which really matters.
So, what’s next? Next summer, the sculpture ponds that are currently being developed will be launched and Michael will continue to tell the unique story, develop the strong connection to a sense of place, uphold its values and environmental responsibility and, most importantly, never forget the customer experience with exceptional food and service at its core. It’s been hard work and will continue to be, but as Michael said: “Successful people are the most hard working out there.”
Echoing the comments of the morning session, Michael is very passionate about developing his team. He said: "Staff are everything, my dream is theirs and they play an important part in it. Sometimes it’s not the amount of people, it’s the dedication of the few that matters.”
And, acknowledging that staff are going to leave you at some point, he believes you should make sure you help them along the way, as they can always come back.
Talking about helping others, Michael is passionate about giving back to the industry and helping others realise their dreams. The Michael Caines Academy has 16 students front of house and in the kitchen and was set up to inspire talent into the industry.
As always, Arena members and guests showed their own generosity with the charity raffle raising £840 for Hospitality Action and Springboard.
With the Arena Christmas Event bringing the 2018 calendar of events to a close, we wish you all a wonderful festive season and a happy and successful 2019… and, we look forward to seeing you at the Arena Savoy Lecture on 11 March!