Arena Face2Face Interview 2022

Tuesday 1 March 2022: 10.30am - 4.00pm

The Arena Face2Face event has an esteemed reputation for engaging influential industry leaders on the important and relevant issues of the day. This year’s Face2Face event brought to the stage not one, but a panel of inspirational hospitality and foodservice leaders. 

Our panel of speakers featured Helen Milligan-Smith, Managing Director, Aramark UK, Kate Nicholls OBE, CEO, UKHospitality, Zoe Bowley,  MD UK & Ireland, Pizza Express, Sally Beck, General Manager, Royal Lancaster London Hotel, Joycelyn Neve, MD, Oakman Group, Joanna Aunon, Director, Women in Hospitality, Travel and Leisure (WiHTL) and Natasha Bowes, Founder & MD, Biotiful. The discussion will be expertly hosted by Ann Elliott, Founder, Ann Elliott Hospitality Consultancy

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Attendee List


Take a look at the attendee list for this event.

Event Review

Last week, we were delighted to host our Arena Face2Face event. It took place on Tuesday 1 March 2022 and over 170 industry colleagues gathered at a new venue for Arena, the Royal Lancaster London. Despite the disruption caused by the tube strike, I was delighted that nearly all guests made it – with many choosing walking from train stations in the rain as opposed to waiting over an hour for a bus or taxi. Now that’s dedication for you!

Upon arrival, guests were welcomed with a selection of viennoiserie from Délifrance, kefir shots from Biotiful, Nescafe Coffee courtesy of Nestlé Professional and orange juice and a selection of soft drinks from Britvic Soft Drinks.  Many were meeting industry friends for the first time since the pandemic and echoes of ‘It’s so nice to be out seeing people face to face’ were heard on a number of occasions around the room. 

So first on the agenda was Katy Moses, Founder and MD of KAM, who presented some ‘hot off the press’ industry research looking at the 360 Hospitality Experience.

The 360 Hospitality Experience

Katy kicked off her presentation by looking at the mood of the consumer and how we were all feeling. In a nutshell, Katy said, “We’ve had a tough time” and the words Brits used to describe 2021 were ‘exhausting’ and ‘relentless’.  But, what does the post-pandemic landscape look like?  Home delivery has seen a huge growth, there’s been a rise in drive-thrus, increase in remote/flexi working, however, a tightening of belts with rising prices.

The key consumer changes have been:

  1. People are drinking less alcohol
  2. Concern for a healthier body and mind
  3. Concern for a healthier world
  4. Customers have welcomed hospitality into their homes
  5. Digital has become the default

What do Customers want from Hospitality now?

Customers are increasingly looking for an experience that they can’t replicate at home. 

For many that means that simply having a drink and somewhere to sit isn’t enough to warrant the additional spend and effort that comes with it. But what does an experience mean to a customer? First and foremost, it’s an experience that they can’t get at home– for some this would be having a perfectly poured draft pint, an expertly made cocktail or a sumptuous Sunday roast. However, for many it needs to be more than just good drinks, good food and a comfortable seat.

Over half of customers feel it’s the venues responsibility to ensure they have a memorable experience and the biggest frustrations when eating/drinking out are now being forced to queue outside a venue.

Alarmingly, although perhaps not surprisingly, the research identified that staff shortages within the hospitality industry are currently damaging the overall experience for customers and remaining staff too. With 2-in-3 customers noticing venues they have visited being short-staffed, the cracks are really beginning to show.

However, those working in hospitality recognise it’s a great place to work. The opportunities are strong with 65% saying the industry provides great training and development opportunities and 79% said it’s a fun industry to work in. However, some hospitality ‘experiences’ needed to be addressed with 32% of women saying they have been treated negatively because of their gender and less than half definitely feel their company is doing enough to address gender equality in the workplace.

Katy summed up by presenting top tips for an unforgettable employee experience.

If anyone would like a copy of Katy’s presentation, please get in contact –

After Katy’s presentation, guests enjoyed a fabulous drinks reception with prosecco courtesy of Unity Wines, non-alocholic lager courtesy of Lucky Saint, focaccia canapés courtesy of Délifrance and a range of soft drinks from Britvic Soft Drinks.

We were delighted to have with us at the event Arianna Salenius, Junior Account Manager from William Murray PR & Marketing, who was attending an Arena event for the first time. This is her review of the remainder of the event.

Industry Update

The first of our acclaimed speakers, Kate Nicholls OBE, CEO, UK Hospitality, introduced the afternoon with an industry update focused on the challenges during and post-pandemic. Acknowledging the difficulties faced by the ‘hospitality sector, and crucially the supply chain that supports it’, Kate’s first COVID government meeting was on 28th January 2020 and she noted that, as an industry, we are still feeling the effects more than two years later, with the final lifting of legal restrictions happening this month.

Kate recognised the ‘silver-linings’ introduced to the industry, with the government immediately establishing a minister of hospitality within the business department. Being the first of its kind, the sector was placed within the critical national economic infrastructure with meetings taking place daily. Crucially noting the importance of the 1.5 million businesses within our supply chain, Kate introduced the hospitality recovery plan, another first for the UK government, involving a three-year strategy to get our sector back on track. It predicted the hospitality sector will recover to pre-pandemic levels by the end of 2023, and 2024 for those dependent on international travel and tourism. She then asked the all-important question, ‘How can we accelerate that recovery period… as there is no economic recovery unless there’s hospitality recovery?’.

Explaining the four key strands of the regrowth strategy, Kate highlights:


Now that legal restrictions have been removed, we can look confidently ahead with the return of large business and cultural events, alongside international travel which holds such importance in city centre recovery and rejuvenation.


Whilst the 2021 Christmas period was expected to allow unlimited trading and a rebuild of shattered cash reserves, the Omicron variant resulted in a six-month delay to this recovery plan. As a result, one in three businesses within the sector are still without cash reserves and experiencing a shortage in labour. We need to ensure government support remains as inflation kicks in and the 20% VAT rate returns. Conversations surrounding this are ongoing as the retention of the 12.5% rate is critical in getting through the recovery period, navigating cost price uncertainties, managing staff demand challenges, and also insulating consumers from cost living increases.


To ensure businesses recapitalise after accruing a 12-billion-pound debt, we need to reduce the risk within the sector and its supply chain - whether that’s insurance providers, banks or the supply chain taskforce itself. The government must take the sector’s needs into account and aid in reducing the risk of labour shortages by presenting the industry as a career of choice through education, apprenticeships, and charters, removing the outdated practices and communicating that this is a fun place to work. Hospitality Rising, a national advertising campaign, has been built to do just that. Kate states, ‘This is about what we can do for them, to help develop them, whether they come to us for six months or they have a career in the sector.’


If given the support to recover, we can go back to what we do best. Pre-pandemic, we were a 130-billion-pound industry and the third largest employer in the country, and critically, we have to go back to generating one in six of net new jobs and the 40-billion-pound tax revenue for the government funding vital public services.

To summarise, we need to keep the VAT rate low to support us in ‘receiving a return on investment and get hospitality firing on all cylinders so that the economy fires on all cylinders.’

Lorraine Wood, Director of Arena, followed Kate to introduce Arena and thank the very generous sponsors in providing their products for the guests to enjoy.

Shortly after, guests enjoyed a three-course lunch provided by the fantastic Royal Lancaster London team, beginning with a smoked haddock soufflé followed by roasted ribeye and braised short rib with truffle mash potato. And before dessert, guests were able to sample the luxuriously creamy kefir provided by our sponsor, Biotiful, and a vanilla baked cheesecake to finish – all accompanied with superb wine from Unity Wines & Spirits and a range of soft drinks and mineral water from Britvic Soft Drinks.

Panel Discussion

Ann Elliott, Founder, Ann Elliot Consultancy, led the discussion tackling the major challenges and opportunities affecting the foodservice and hospitality sector and the importance of diversity and inclusion within their businesses.

Joining Ann, the all-female leader panel included:

  • Helen Milligan-Smith, Managing Director, Aramark UK
  • Kate Nicholls OBE, CEO, UKHospitality
  • Sally Beck, General Manager, Royal Lancaster London Hotel
  • Joycelyn Neve, MD, Oakman Group
  • Joanna Aunon, Director, Women in Hospitality, Travel and Leisure (WiHTL)
  • Natasha Bowes, Founder & MD, Biotiful

Kicking things off, Ann questioned the panellists on their learnings from the pandemic and in this uncertain climate, the key challenges and opportunities they have faced.

Catering to several sites and sectors across the country, Helen Milligan-Smith spoke of Aramark UK’s diverse portfolio aiding them to overcome their challenges of low resource and low margins. ‘Each part of the business has had its own challenges, but there’s been opportunities where we’ve grown the business and we’ve worked hard at that over the last 12 months.’ Noting the biggest challenge being resource, Aramark has focused on innovative HR reforms, such as their menopause and neurodiverse policies, providing bespoke solutions for each sector and really listening to what’s important to clients and colleagues in order to attract the top talent.

Helen agreed with Kate’s earlier point of the challenging upcoming inflation and highlighted the importance of having early conversations with clients and the supply chain, building on personal relationships.

But it’s not for the sector to face alone, the government needs to support and help the industry to return to its former success.

Sally Beck continued, referencing the difficult challenges faced with staff wages prior to the furlough scheme, having to temporarily close the hotel and, of course, the obstacles of reopening and inducting the team to a fully operating hotel once operating was allowed.

Speaking of the onus on the team’s flexibility, Sally said, ‘Our events team diversified…to come out of a pandemic to be every figure known to man and be able to deliver it. We did so, but it was all about communication…they're super flexible.’

Sally highlighted the importance of bringing in work experience to give students an idea of the industry, with many returning for apprenticeships and employment.

Kate Nicholls, OBE, followed to discuss the importance of the parents’ negative connotations of the hospitality industry and this hindering young people’s desire to enter the sector. She stated, ‘We need to talk about career progression and that aspirational level, but you also need to make it fun for young people as well…. It's a fun place to work in. We need to be better at doing both.’

Leading on to the government’s role, Kate referenced the need to be a sustainable, resilient industry showing the government how we can help them. ‘They know we’re valuable, but they think we’re a self-healing industry.’ Again, the ‘silver-lining’ of the new hospitality department is mentioned positively and the government’s understanding of the industry is welcomed, ‘but we need to continue to capitalise on that.’

Joycelyn Neve, MD of Oakman Group, followed, ‘When the challenge comes at the size it di], where you're at the risk of losing your business, it becomes incredibly personal…so you have to keep a level head and be adaptable.’ Citing the group’s focus on people and their food quality and offering, the Oakman Group now looks forward to a very exciting future.

Natasha Bowes, Founder & MD of Biotiful, one of the event’s sponsors, is extending the market of her brand from retail to foodservice and followed on to discuss the shift. Founding the brand 10 years ago, Natasha saw the need to bring kefir and its nutritional value to the British consumer. After a setback due to the pandemic, she stated, ‘We're extremely proud with what was built with the team and we’re on the verge of coming into the foodservice industry having raised the awareness and educating the consumers on gut health.’ Natasha highlighted the importance of food and health and our role to deliver simple and relevant information to the consumer.

Shifting the conversation to the supply chain, Helen expressed that it’s a personal partnership and essential to work as a team by supporting each other at every stage. And Jocelyn agreed that Oakman Group’s long-standing supplier relationships were essential in maintaining the company’s success. With the upcoming rise in inflation, she stated that the supplier’s price increase is genuine and that the group’s menu prices have reflected the increase without negative consumer feedback. She said, ‘Prices go up and expectations do as well – it’s our job to make sure the experience is delivered.’ Sally followed to reference the importance of planning ahead, focusing on logistics and bulk buying to ensure stock is available to serve with Kate highlighting that consumers should understand the cost increase as ‘the two big denominators are energy and labour.’

We then heard from Joanna Aunon, Director of WiHTL, who started the collaboration community comprised of 75 companies sharing best practice around diversity and inclusion. They use their platform to raise awareness on gender, race and ethnicity, citing, ‘When you rise, you lift others… we are by the industry, for the industry’. Referring to the Hampton-Alexander report target of 33%+ women on boards, Ann shared the Plan B mentoring scheme with the audience which uses speed mentoring specifically targeted to aid resolving the issue.

The discussion led to the hospitality industry’s diversity, with the sector having one of the most diverse frontlines. And yet, although improved, there is still an imbalance of gender equality within senior roles. Referring to the gender pay gap, Kate stated that, ‘58% of men were in higher end roles and 54% of women were in the lowest 25%’ and so this certainly isn’t resolved yet either.

Continuing with the gender theme, Sally stated that being resilient is crucial in being a female in the industry but referring to childcare she noted that ‘society doesn’t allow men to be flexible’ and that the balance here needs to be 50/50, too.

Helen agreed that everyone needs to be more open and have that conversation as she refers to herself being repeatedly asked, ‘How do you do the job that you do with the children?'

Natasha followed stating the little difference in perception she receives now as a female entrepreneur, compared to her work in the finance industry. She asked, ‘Is it more difficult to start a company and run a company as a woman? I think it’s easier…you have a different way of thinking and a different energy.’

Jocelyn mentioned having imposter syndrome although started her own business just 12 months after joining the industry. She shared, ‘We need to nurture female talent, and all talent, but with the awareness that women won’t push themselves forward in the same way as men, so having mentoring opportunities like Plan B, we’re introducing the same with Oakman Group now so we can start having these conversations. To compete against men, to get noticed and to have confidence that you can achieve the same things as men and not hold yourself back, which I think is the ultimate thing.’

Although Oakman Group boasts a 50/50 gender balance through most of the business, there’s still an imbalance in the kitchen and Jocelyn highlights the challenge of recruiting females into that.

Giving the final word, Kate stated that, ‘It’s important to remember how far we’ve come…we can see a more diverse workforce and four years after the first report we are much further ahead in terms of gender equality and tackling the equality in the boardroom, but we need to model the change we want to be’, and finished with the final point that, ‘The job’s not done until it stops being newsworthy that this is an all-female panel.’

Concluding the day, Lorraine joined the stage to thank the panel which was met by a huge round of applause from the audience. And to finish, the announcement of two more Arena events in the pipeline: Arena Futures on 22nd March, a new branch of Arena targeting the rising stars of the industry and a great opportunity for junior staff members to practice their networking skills and hear from key industry speakers. And the Savoy Lecture on 26th April with Robin Mills, Managing Director, Compass Group UK&Ireland.

Event Timings

10.30am Arrival - coffee and refreshments
11.10am 'The 360 Hospitality Experience' by Katy Moses, Founder and MD, KAM Media plus audience Q&A
11.45am Drinks reception and canapés
12.45pm Industry Update by Kate Nicholls OBE, CEO, UKHospitality
1.00pm Three-course seated lunch with wine
2.30pm Panel Discussion plus audience Q&A
4.00pm Close