Ask Arena

‘Foodservice – Reopen Right’

‘Foodservice – Reopen Right’, sponsored by Britvic Soft Drinks, was our latest Ask Arena virtual event exploring the reopening of the different sectors of our diverse industry. Focusing on the foodservice sector - especially B&I, we brought together a panel of experts to discuss the key challenges affecting the sector, the opportunities, the plans being put in place to reopen and how companies can work together to develop solutions.Read on for the event review by Lorraine Wood, Arena's Director...


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Event Review

By Lorraine Wood, Director of Arena

It’s been a big week for our industry as the first phase of reopening finally arrived. Even the great British weather couldn’t dampen (or freeze!) the enthusiasm of operators and customers as we relished being able to enjoy good food, drink and hospitality in outdoor settings.

Our series of Ask Arena virtual events continues to track and explore the reopening of the different sectors of our diverse industry. This week it was the turn of workplaces in ‘Foodservice – Re-open Right’, sponsored by Britvic Soft Drinks.

The question all foodservice operators want answered is when will employees return to the workplace and what will this look like? Without a crystal ball, this is a tall order. But thanks to our expert panel, we were able to share some great insights direct from the workplace sector and intel from conversations with clients and teams, which shed some light on the challenges and opportunities ahead.

Anita Murray, CEO of William Murray (who incidentally has also been instrumental in helping launch the Ask Arena series) hosted the brilliant discussion which featured valuable contributions from Allister Richards, COO, CH&CO; Hamish Cook, Head of Group Food Services – Global Operations, ISS; Rajat Chawla, Commercial & Business Excellence Director – Northern Europe, Aramark; Phil Sanders, Out of Home Commercial Director, Britvic Soft Drinks and JP Kloppers, Managing Director, Yoyo. I thank them all for giving their time and expertise to Ask Arena.

If you missed it, the recording is available here for you to watch at your leisure. You may also want to revisit the great content and share with your teams, so please do use it as a point of reference ongoing. In the meantime, here are my key take outs that sum up the discussion and the workplace landscape.

The signs may be positive as we come out of lockdown, but the prognosis is changing constantly.

As a result, the ability to forecast short-, medium- and long-term volumes from traditional workplace business is really compromised. Couple this with the sheer volume of mobilisations ahead for foodservice operators and the landscape looks pretty challenging. Our panellists, however, remain upbeat with an optimistic, can-do attitude. So, what are they focusing on to successfully navigate the months ahead?

  • Customer expectations: Getting the right balance between familiarity (the menus, people, recipes and dishes customers have missed) and newness (recognising that so much has changed in peoples’ lives).
  • Social hesitancy: The pandemic has changed the way people live, work and interact. The fact that people are not going to behave as they used to needs to be managed.
  • Foodservice teams: Frontline teams will need to regain confidence and stamina. In the short term, levels of productivity and energy could be compromised so practical support is needed.
  • Client expectations: Clients and customers are not giving free passes! They have heightened levels of sensibility and expectation around key issues, such as environmental policies, and operators need to respond.
  • Confidence: The pandemic and extended period of lockdown is something people have never experienced before. Both teams and customers need time, reassurance and clear communications to instil confidence as we move forward.

If you can’t fix it, feature it!

I loved the sentiment shared by JP Klopper and echoed by his fellow panellists - If you can’t fix it, feature it!

As ever, where there are obstacles, there are opportunities:

  • The need to reconnect: Social contact with colleagues will be valued a lot more now. Hospitality can play a key role in facilitating this reconnection.
  • Customers have missed the experience of being looked after: Everyone’s thrown themselves into looking after themselves but now they can relish the fact that, as Allister Richards perfectly put it, ‘We’ve got you’.
  • Health & Wellness: This is at the forefront of minds as people come out of lockdown and clients will be looking to hospitality partners to support this.
  • Great awareness of cleanliness: This presents an opportunity to keep guests onsite over the high street.
  • New rituals: Food and beverage can help establish new office-based rituals, recognising the different practical and emotional needs of employees and tailoring the service for all – from those in the office five days a week to the remote worker.
  • Innovation: Businesses have become a lot more entrepreneurial through necessity.
  • Technology: The pandemic has accelerated the use of technology across the hospitality industry and, as well as frictionless engagement, can drive footfall and loyalty and deliver value, targeted rewards, creativity, fun and engagement.
  • Sustainability: People still care about the planet.

So, it seems that there’s a big job ahead for our foodservice colleagues, but the outlook is one of optimism and opportunity. Collaboration and shared conversations, data and insight between operators, clients and suppliers are necessary to work and learn together. A healthy dose of agility and flexibility is also needed to respond to changes in demand.

Before questions from ‘the floor’, the panellists were asked ‘What’s the one thing you absolutely want to do in your business this year?’ – here’s what they said:

  • Allister Richards: Help teams recover physically, emotionally and financially.
  • Rajat Chawla: Safe working environment and restore customer confidence.
  • Hamish Cook: Mobilise in a safe manner for customers and teams.
  • Phil Sanders: Learn quickly in partnership with customers.
  • JP Kloppers: Create really engaging and fulfilling loyalty experiences for employees.


Our Speakers

Allister Richards, Chief Operating Officer, CH&CO

Allister’s experience in hospitality spans nearly 25 years and the diverse industry – including Butlins (even trying his hand at Bingo calling), pubs and bars, consultancy and investment firms and contract catering, where he has made his name as an influential leader.

He moved into the foodservice industry in 2003 when he joined Sodexo. By 2006 Allister took his first managing director role within Sodexo as MD Corporate Services Business in London & South. In 2011, he staked his claim as an entrepreneur and disrupter when he left Sodexo to found Gather & Gather. Under Allister’s leadership, the progressive business proved very successful, growing to revenues of over £150m by 2019, when it was sold to CH&CO.

Gather & Gather’s innovative approach to workplace catering, its sustainability ethos and its focus and investment in its people was recognised in 2019 when it was crowned Business & Industry Caterer of the Year at the Foodservice Cateys. Since Gather & Gather became part of CH&CO, Allister’s role has expanded and in February 2020 he became COO of CH&CO. Allister works alongside the CEO Bill Toner to shape the future of the diverse and dynamic business.

Hamish Cook, Head of Group Food Services – Global Operations, ISS

Hamish has spent his career leading and developing business to business food and facility service organisations on an international level.

Hospitality trained in Australia, he spent the early part of his career in international hotels before joining the Spotless Group. Over the next 20 years, Hamish gained experience in business development and food operations across Australia and New Zealand with a focus on B&I, Education, retail and Aged Care markets. In 2010 he and his family relocated to the UK to lead Spotless Group’s international operations covering facility and food services in the UK, Europe, North America and Middle East. 

After leaving Spotless in 2012, he ran a successful International consulting and interim management business before joining En Route International  (part of the Emirates Group) in 2015. As Executive Director, he led the development of food and service solutions for the airline and travel market on a global basis.

After six successful years leading their operations, he joined ISS as Head of Group Food Services in December 2020 and oversees the strategic direction of  ISS’s food activities across their global operations.

With an MBA in International Business from Oxford Brookes University, he continues to mentor hospitality students and entrepreneurs in his spare time.

Rajat Chawla, Commercial & Business Excellence Director – Northern Europe, Aramark  

Rajat Chawla has been with Aramark for over 8 years.

An accountant by qualification, Raj has worked in various finance and commercial transformational initiatives over the last 19 years. Most recently, in his current role, Raj is closely working with colleagues across the company to develop effective programmes that establish common Aramark operating standards and processes that enable its operators to efficiently achieve outcomes to the delight of its customers, clients, and teams.

Phil Sanders, Out of Home Commercial Director, Britvic Soft Drinks

Phil Sanders joined Britvic in 2015 from his previous role as Trading Director at Unilever.  Initially joining Britvic as their At Home Channel Director Phil moved into the role of Out of Home Commercial Director in 2019.  Working across the Convenience, Licensed and Foodservice channels Phil brings a wealth of experience to the role and comments.

 “The last 12 months have brought extraordinary times and certainly the most challenging in the history of the hospitality industry.  As we look forward to a reopening of our sector it is important that we all come together to share our challenges and come up with workable solutions for all.”

JP Kloppers, Managing Director, Yoyo

JP Kloppers has spent the last decade in customer experience measurement. Most recently this has been applied in the field of customer loyalty and payments at Yoyo. Previously this was through accurate opinion mining on social media at BrandsEye. He is a proponent of the approach to AI that includes humans in the loop to ensure that machines don’t let bias creep into their training data. He also speaks regularly about how machines need to ultimately serve people and help reduce friction and misunderstanding in the world. He used this combination of people and AI in 2016 to correctly predict the outcomes of both Brexit and the US elections, and now focuses on applying technology to help improve loyalty and customer experience in the retail payments space.

Anita Murray, CEO, William Murray

For 30 years, Anita has been helping firms be even more successful by getting them to think and act differently to get great results.

Anita's worked with organisations across retail and hospitality including Caribbean Export Development Agency (CEDA), Agriculture & Horticulture Development Board (AHDB), Pure South (New Zealand Lamb), Kraft Heinz, Kiddylicious, Unilever, Bidfood, Arla and BRITA. Under her leadership, William Murray has become a highly respected name within the food and drink industry. The agency has developed a unique offer during Covid called TasteShakers to partner with restaurants to bring a new range of products to supermarket shelves.

Anita is one of the Top 150 Women in Food, Drink & Hospitality (People 1st), an Inspiration Award for Women winner, a member of the Food Innovation Network, a judge for PR and food industry awards and facilitator for food industry events/webinars. Her passion for supporting the food & drink industry extends to mentoring and her work with charities, including The Springboard Charity.