Arena Christmas Event

at the Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park

Thank you to everyone who attended Arena's Christmas Event.  If you missed it, you can read the Event Review below.

Attendee List


Take a look at the attendee list for this event.

Event Review

The Morning Session – Optimising Your Total Food and Beverage Business

The great and the good of the foodservice industry flocked to the Mandarin Oriental – Hyde Park on Monday 4th December, for Arena’s biggest Christmas event in over 30 years. The glittering showcase – the highlight of the foodservice and hospitality festive calendar – had a packed agenda, with networking opportunities and a delicious three-course lunch sandwiched between insight and debate from leading authorities across the industry.

After a welcome reception fuelled by Nestlé Professional Nescafé coffee and pastries from Delifrance, delegates settled into a packed ballroom for the first session of the day: Optimising Your Total Food & Beverage Business.

Headed up by Egg Soldiers, the food consultancy experts, and leading hospitality procurement consultancy Prestige Purchasing, the session set out to showcase what a gold standard approach looks like from culinary planning to procurement and the impact that incremental changes can have. 

Kateline Porritt, Head of Trends & Insight at Egg Soldiers opened the session with an emphasis on macro-trends and how understanding what happens both globally and nationally in the marketplace can help inform what businesses can do now, and in the future, to achieve success. Competitor benchmarking was also earmarked as an essential step (despite often being woefully neglected) to truly understand your offering, where it might be lacking and as a result, how it can be improved.

Toph Ford, Egg Soldiers’ co-founder, continued by highlighting the need to immerse yourself in your own business to identify pain points, then using that knowledge to create a clear food identity from which all future strategy – whether comms, training or menu development – could be planned.

At this point Shaun Allen from Prestige Purchasing was able to step in – with a food strategy metaphorically established thanks to Kateline and Toph – Shaun could ‘meet’ them in the kitchen to explain what a successful approach through the supply chain could look like. Soliciting two key strategies – improving your operations (internally) and managing markets better (externally) – he referenced examples as divergent as Henry Ford and the McDonald brothers to reinforce the importance of efficient processes and bringing together teams throughout your business to ensure success.

The Afternoon Panel Discussion

Following a sumptuous lunch, set to the unmistakeable thrum of casual networking and no shortage of festive mirth, it was time for the afternoon panel session – the culmination of Arena’s sold-out Christmas event. Peter Martin, Industry commentator and Co-Founder of Peach 20/20 was in the driving seat for this one – armed with an inquisitive mind and a sack positively brimming with gifts of incisive inquiries for panellists Katya Simmons, Managing Director of Nestlé Professional, Sean Haley, CEO of Sodexo UK & Ireland, Clive Chesser, CEO at Punch Pubs & Co and Brian Trollip, Managing Director of Dishoom.

What does Growth Look like?

Growth. The phrase in isolation can be glib and nebulous – but in kicking off, emcee Peter was keen that each panellist contextualise what good growth looked like for their respective businesses. For Dishoom’s Brian, who had just recently overseen the operator’s tenth opening in Battersea, the phrase spoke more to company culture than the balance sheet. “I would characterise growth as the antithesis of ‘good’” he argued, “to chase growth religiously could leave operators wanting for the health of their business.” Dishoom’s steady growth over the past 13 years has, he said, been a very deliberate move as the business focuses on marginal gains in its operations while striving to improve team and customer satisfaction and “creating great restaurant experiences”.

Punch Pubs are famously unfamous in their approach to branding, meaning you’ll never see a Punch logo on the side of any of the 1,000 pubs within their leased and tenanted-tied estate, yet this hasn’t hindered the brand in its plans for expansion. CEO Clive explained that the pub market is “capital hungry” with a need to keep growing, cautiously adding that such an ambition shouldn’t come “at the expense of underlying organic performance”. Punch plans to expand its food offer in the coming months and years, with Clive suggesting the brand will look to build a real edge moving forward in the face of a broad competitive set.   

“The pub sector has allowed the casual dining community to eat our lunch and the coffee shop market to drink our breakfast” he added. “we’re fighting against everyone, but I’m also delighted when I see other pub businesses doing well!”

Collectively, Sodexo and Nestlé operate in some 243 countries around the world, so when it comes to growth by scale, these dual behemoths have it covered.

For Sodexo UK & Ireland’s Sean Haley it’s more about growing with purpose, “We don’t chase growth and select our opportunities where we think we can make a genuine difference. Our fundamental growth model is predicated on 35,000 colleagues around the world – we must have the best people, so we constantly invest in them – through benefits, training, and support.” Growth through investment is imperative for Nestlé’s Katya Simmons, yet these have typically been focused on product development, R&D and sustainable initiatives. She added that Nestlé is now on the cusp of a new era – a drive for sustainable volume to ensure that the multinational company’s vast network of factories are not underutilised and are as efficient as they possibly can be, “meaning we can focus, focus, focus – and uncover the areas (for volume growth) that will make the biggest difference and be bloody brilliant!”  

Labour Challenges

One particularly pressing issue across hospitality is a shortage in the labour market. How are our panellists viewing this challenge and what are they doing to affect positive change and drive recruitment and retention?

While Dishoom’s Brian admits his company is in a “pretty good place” in terms of attracting people, testament to a core focus on the issue, growing and investing in a specialist internal recruitment and retention team by x6 since Brexit and latterly the pandemic, he characterised 2022 as “the hardest year of mine and my team’s lives.”

“Something that was pretty easy to do pre-Covid was now about four times as difficult. We came out (of the pandemic) probably a little bit too cautious and on top of that absenteeism was pretty high – so we invested really heavily at the back end of 2022 to get us back on the front foot and make sure we had all the right people in the right places. We’re now back to where we want to be – people are being onboarded in the right way and as a result more than 60% of our team have worked at Dishoom for a year or more.”

For Brian and his team at Dishoom, it’s clear that fostering a “familial culture” is more than just words on an ESG memo, it’s a credo that the business is trying – and succeeding – to live by.

As a director of the Springboard Charity, Sodexo UK & Ireland’s Sean was at pains to emphasise the importance of getting people from disadvantaged backgrounds into hospitality, citing the prestigious Futurechef competition as an “absolutely amazing” talent pipeline into the sector. This year the competition will reach 500 schools, inviting participation from over 20,000 students, from which 25% of those participants will enter the hospitality fray – an incredibly positive statistic and truly something to be applauded. Allied to this, Sean spoke of his company’s work with prison offenders. At any one time there can be 80-90,000 prisoners behind bars – each receives education, and the offer of new skills, apprenticeships, and qualifications, yet, in a damning statistic, only 17% go into paid work once their sentence has elapsed.

To help turn the tide, Sean spoke of a new campaign, created by Sodexo, with collaboration from companies like Nestlé, called Starting Fresh, which looks to get prospective employers into prisons, working with prisoners, to match their skills to relevant labour gaps.

“It’s a huge potential labour force, and I appreciate it can be a complex issue, but we should be doing more to help these people be work ready,” added the Sodexo UK and Ireland CEO.

Looking Forward; Disruption is the new norm and we’re bloody good at it!

Invited to look ahead to the coming 12 months, Dishoom’s Brian spoke of his optimism. “Do you know what,” he said with a wry smile, “we’ve been whingeing quite a lot as an industry over the past year or so – and there’s been a lot to whinge about – but we need to get a bit more positive. Our industry has so much to offer to the country as a whole. I feel like I know a lot more about what the ‘new normal’ looks like – there are going to be a few more spanners chucked into the works, I’ve no doubt, it’s an election year – let’s get everybody feeling comfortable, sort the (train) strikes out, I’d quite like to get back to ‘normal’ and if we do I’m feeling a lot more optimistic.” His sentiment drew a round of applause from the room, filled with guests that seemingly endorsed his cautiously positive vision.

Sodexo UK & Ireland’s Sean was in total agreement, drawing a second, hearty round of applause from the room for his assessment. “It’s going to be bumpy, and it’s going to be challenging, but it’s been like that for the last seven years, whether you go back to Brexit, Covid, Ukraine, the cost of living crisis, inflation, Israel…this is the new norm, this is it, and we know how to do it – I’m tired of talking about the disruptive market, this is the market and a lot of us have proven that we’re bloody good at it! So, let’s crack on and be optimistic!”

NestléProfessional’s Katya sounded yet another positive note, adding, “At the end of the day it doesn’t matter who the Government is – we’ve been working longer than any Government! Overall, the economy has lots to give and we’re not yet at full potential. The two things I love about this country the most are loving traditions and being brilliant in innovation and if we continue to do this, I think the sky is the limit!”

Punch CEO Clive attested to feeling a lot more positive now then he had done six weeks ago – characterising the end of a “not so great” summer as being plagued by high interest rates, mortgage and rental costs and low consumer confidence. He had now shifted his outlook over the past six weeks to one of optimism, however, citing the “incredible resilience” of the pub market over the past 30 years against boom, bust and recession – “We morph and evolve as we go. I wouldn’t want to be selling expensive electronics or cars at the moment, but I’m more than happy to be selling social interactions and a pint of beer! We’re seeing trade holding up really well – perhaps illogically so! Christmas bookings are three-fold up on last year – it’s a really good sign.”

Reasons to be cheerful, then, from each of the Arena Christmas panellists, as the country and our beloved industry enters 2024 in cautiously buoyant mood, battered and bruised by the headwinds gone by, realistic about those to come, but never, ever beaten.

Thank you to Lorraine and the Arena team, and their generous sponsors, for another brilliant, yearlong programme of insight and inspiration, culminating in this, the diamond standard event in the foodservice and hospitality calendar.

Thank You

Thank you to Nick Clancy, Managing Partner Foodservice, 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

Event Timings

10.30am Event Start Time
4.00pm Close