Arena Christmas Event

Monday 12 December 2022

A sold out Arena took place on Monday 12th December 2022. With the stunning Mandarin Oriental - Hyde Park as the backdrop, Arena’s Christmas Event is by far the highlight of the festive calendar and a chance for people in foodservice to come together, reflect and most importantly look to the year ahead.  Read the event review below written by Arena member Gemma Felstead, Group Account Director, jellybean.

Attendee List


Take a look at the attendee list for this event.

Event Review

Event Review by Gemma Felstead, Group Account Director, jellybean

A sold out Arena took place on Monday 12th December 2022. With the stunning Mandarin Oriental - Hyde Park as the backdrop, Arena’s Christmas Event is by far the highlight of the festive calendar and a chance for people in foodservice to come together, reflect and most importantly look to the year ahead.

As our industry has proven these last 12 months, we’re a resilient bunch, and despite heavy snow and ice causing travel chaos, there was a fantastic turnout made even more festive with London blanketed in white.

After coffee courtesy of Nescafé, Plenish shots from Britvic and a range of delicious viennoiserie from Délifrance the morning began with a ‘Growing Your Brand’ panel discussion hosted by Ann Elliot and featured an impressive line-up of hospitality entrepreneurs and business owners. The panel Included Bharti Radix – Founder of BloomsYard, Stasi Nychas, Co-Founder and COO at Neat Burger, Sam Hagger – Founder of the Beautiful Pubs Collective and Simon Houston – Director at Houston & Hawkes.

With a clear passion and commitment to their businesses, Ann quizzed them on the dream vs. reality of starting your own business, be it a pub, contract catering business or coffee-wine bar.

Despite the speakers having hugely different backgrounds, ranging from years in the corporate world to being raised in a family of passion-driven entrepreneurs they were all connected by their love of hospitality, people and the challenges of building - and being - a business post-Covid.

The highs are higher, and the lows are lower

It was clear the ability to solve problems on the fly and keep positive were attributes they all shared. Despite the challenging times they could all see opportunities for their respective businesses be that new territories, more sites or simply making square footage work harder.

What came through clearly was that every person echoed just how important people are in making their brand successful. Either through nurturing and developing talent, building relationships, having a trusted network to lean on - something they all deeply valued especially through Covid – or collaborating with other operators and partners to build the business.

The opportunity is there if you’re willing to take a risk

Resilience, a positive mind set, wearing many hats and being willing to get stuck in whatever the job are all essential skills needed when it comes to building a brand. Equally, knowing when to take a step back and get out of your bubble was also cited as crucial to seeing the bigger picture to help the business grow.

The morning panel discussion closed with a feeling of optimism, positivity and excitement for 2023. So, what final advice would they give to budding entrepreneurs? There is always opportunity, build your network as wide as you can, do something you believe in and go for it.

After the inspiring panel session guests enjoyed plenty of time for networking whilst enjoying first-class hospitality by the Mandarin team with Tosti Prosecco from Unity Wines and Spirits, focaccia bite canapés courtesy of Délifrance and soft drinks from Britvic.  This was followed by a sumptuous three-course lunch with Délifrance Héritage mini handcrafted roll selection to accompanying the Starter, wines complementing each course from Unity Wines and Spirits and soft drinks from Britvic. The delicious three course meal was completed with coffee courtesy of Nescafé. 

Post lunch, Steve Norris - Chairman of Arena addressed the 200 guests and reflected on 30 years of the non-profit organisation, which was founded by Peter Backman. With the goal to connect people, Steve highlighted that in the last four years, 3,500 people working in wholesale, supplier-based or operator-led businesses had come together at an Arena event – with membership growing by +38%. Steve also thanked sponsors, members and guests who have helped Arena raise thousands of pounds for industry charities, Hospitality Action and Springboard. In his parting words, Steve gave a special thank you to the volunteers who work so hard behind the scenes to make Arena the success it is, and of course Lorraine Wood who keeps Arena going. As is tradition, a charity raffle was held in aid of Hospitality Action and Springboard which raised an impressive £1,170 in total.

The post lunch panel session ‘Staying Relevant’ featured Morag Freathy - MD Business and Industry UK at Compass Group and Zoe Bowley – Managing Director at Pizza Express. Hosted by Peter Martin of Peach2020, we first heard Peter’s perspective on the industry, the pressure of increasing costs and the lack of government support. Peter spoke passionately about what we as an industry are achieving collectively, with sales data looking positive as people continue to go out and spend more when they do.

Value for Experience

When consumers are going out, value for experience has become more important than ever, and Peter urged operators not to go down the cheap and cheerful route. With sales up even before the World Cup, there is optimism. However, Peter was quick to highlight the independent operators who are feeling the pain. Peter called upon the industry to support the new wave of entrepreneurs to keep the sector healthy, positive and buoyant for the future. Inclusivity will also be fundamental, as well as sustainability. Despite the current economic pressures on the market, both are set to continue to gain importance in the year ahead.

Thinking Like an Entrepreneur

We then heard how both Pizza Express and Compass (Eurest) have adapted to a post-Covid world and the ‘new normal’. Zoe Bowley spoke about becoming an omni-channel brand, investing in technology and building real loyalty with customers. Thinking like an entrepreneur enabled Pizza Express to adapt during the pandemic, transform their delivery business and even reporting record sales during the World Cup.

Morag shared how Compass (Eurest) has continued to grow and echoed Peter’s words that workers are indeed coming into the office, enjoying the collaboration with colleagues and spending more. The contract caterer has successfully worked in partnership with its clients to navigate Covid and developed an offering that supports the welfare of employees through hot food feeding from director level down and rewarding those who come into the office more frequently.

The New Friday? 

Both women spoke of the challenges of the post-pandemic consumer and the new normal. With workers generally at home Mondays and Fridays, it was fascinating to hear how they have needed to be agile and flex their operations, looking at all day parts and days, as well as introducing affordable, health focused and more sustainable items.

As for the biggest challenge, inflationary pressures are top of mind (as with all operators), but sustainability is also a focus, with buying British, plant-based menus and minimising food waste an ongoing mission. 

The Arena Christmas Event came to an end with a feeling of positivity and optimism for 2023. Whatever happens next year there is a powerful sense of connection within our industry and by supporting one another we can overcome the challenges that are thrown our way – with a little entrepreneurial spirit. 

Thank you to Gemma Felstead, Group Account Director, jellybean for this event review.  jellybean is a multi-award winning, integrated, specialist food & drink agency that helps brands hit their sweet spot. With 35 years’ experience in hospitality and foodservice, they offer marketing, PR, social and digital services to some of the biggest names in the business. A long-time supporter of Arena, you can find out more about jellybean at