Caterer careful to make sure that kit matches its ambitions

Cadbury World cafe

Amadeus is a caterer on the up. Borne out of the NEC Group — it still serves the organisation’s big arenas and exhibition centre — the business has rebranded and is now winning external contracts across the land. FEJ meets the man responsible for ensuring its teams have access to the catering equipment they require to flourish.

The first thing that Amadeus’ food and beverage director, Marc Frankl, points out when he begins expanding on the company’s catering operations is that he is an ex-chef. For that reason, he notes, the kitchen estate is precisely where it all starts for him.

“It is absolutely vital that we make sure that we give the chefs the kit they need to produce the fantastic food that we provide to our customers,” he says, stressing that the close relationship between the Birmingham-based company’s operations and chef teams is vital to determining what is viable from a catering equipment perspective.

“We have got some fantastic chefs that really know what they are talking about. We generally tender for any new bits of kit and then once we get service providers in we work with them to make sure that they fit and install all the correct kit that is going to deliver what we need it to deliver,” explains Frankl, who confirms that it relies heavily on the equipment leasing and hire market given the event-based aspect of its business.

Amadeus’ story is an interesting one. Part of the larger NEC Group since 1976, when the contract catering arm was originally called NEC Group Catering, the business has welcomed a new executive management team on board in recent years and increased the volume of contracts gained with external visitor attractions and meeting venues.

10215-HiRes-AmadeusChef-AmadeusChef

Banqueting remains a major part of Amadeus’ business.

Its so-called ‘home venues’ — namely the NEC, the ICC, the LG Arena and the Barclaycard Arena — still deliver the majority of sales but it is picking up work outside of those where the opportunity arises. “It is obviously an ambition of ours to continue that trend because we need to grow outside of the group,” acknowledges Frankl. “We are involved in new tenders and have clear aspirations to grow.”

Amadeus currently employs more than 400 permanent staff and although Frankl won’t be drawn on turnover projections, the firm has previously stated that it posted sales of £27m back in 2012-13. That figure is likely to be well over £30m now given the rate at which it has added new contracts. Clients using its services include the likes of Cadbury World, Coventry Cathedral, Kenilworth Castle and the National Sealife Centre.

Service levels from suppliers are massively important, particularly in terms of external events”

Frankl says the group has a clear policy for managing the equipment inventory it requires to deliver the offering at each site, starting with specification.

“I will work either with our own staff or with the client to come up with kit that we believe is going to work and then establish when it needs to be mobilised. From a budget perspective I need to make sure we are not spending more than we promised, while operationally the challenge is usually to put as much in as we can while obviously being very mindful of power loadings, heat dispersion and other technical issues. We need to work within those boundaries to maximise what we have in our areas.”

In many cases Amadeus finds itself taking on sites where there is either a legacy facility in place or space is restricted. Dudley Zoo is one example where Frankl says it went in and had to make more changes back-of-house than front-of-house — a situation he calls “quite unusual for us” — while the Library of Birmingham also required some lateral thinking after it was asked to provide a hot food offering despite the absence of any kitchen space.

It solved that issue by installing a Unox oven with a built-in converter to minimise smells and particulates. Given its presence in retail kiosks and concessions, Frankl and his team are well-versed with coffee machines, Panini makers and high-speed grills. But they are also willing to explore. In some retail counters it has now begun using through-granite induction for hot-hold on chafing dishes, which is proving to be more efficient than traditional methods.

Equally the company has to have a solid understanding of heavy duty kit given that banqueting is a major part of its business. Knowing which ovens and bratt pans are required comes down to calculating potential visitor numbers versus kitchen space.

“We could be preparing and serving 800 to 1,000 dishes for an 8 O’clock service, so we need to look very carefully at the kit that we use and the time of prep and the time of service. To get all that out at that sort of speed requires military precision.”

As its ever-lengthening client list testifies, it is ready to rise to the challenge.

Amadeus equipment talk: Marc Frankl

On the growth of the business

“I have been with the business for two-and-a-half years and as a board and a senior team we are all quite new in. That was a deliberate strategy from the MD — he wanted to really bring in a change culture to Amadeus to drive us forward to where we are now.”

On sustainable kitchen equipment

“We are all under pressure to keep a lid on budgets so efficiency is important to us as a group, as is sustainability and corporate social responsibility. We are always seeking to use the most efficient kit.”

On the significance of service levels

“Service levels from suppliers are massively important, particularly in terms of external events. If we are in a field in Scotland managing hospitality for the Scottish Open, we want reliable bits of kit that will work and if they don’t then we have got to have a service level that will get an engineer out within a couple of hours and resolve whatever issue we face.”

On the challenges of procurement

“I think from a procurement perspective there are hidden costs if you don’t know the right questions to ask. Everyone’s cost bases are moving, but it has almost become a selling game these days: we are selling the benefits of working with us to the leading suppliers in order for them to turn around and offer us competitive deals.”

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