EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Seamus O’Donnell on what he thinks of supplier support

Seamus O’Donnell, culinary director

Leading restaurant chain The Alchemist operates a proven kitchen template designed to allow it to produce its unique twist on British classics in an efficient and sustainable way. But what measures does it take to ensure equipment doesn’t let it down? Culinary director Seamus O’Donnell discusses supplier expectations, warranty terms and getting hold of spare parts.

Partnerships are very important to The Alchemist. When it comes to after-sales support from catering equipment suppliers, what is the bare minimum you expect?

One of the secrets to the success of The Alchemist has been our ability to reflect our philosophy of ‘trust, honesty and reliability’ within our kitchens through to our suppliers. We will always have various problems with certain pieces of kit, but how the supplier reacts and the speed on finding a solution is so important as it affects the day to day running of the kitchens and the ability of the chefs to carry out their duties to the best of their ability.

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How much time do you spend evaluating the service and support credentials of a supplier? Are there any particular criteria you insist upon when buying equipment?

We have a fantastic facilities manager, Jen Heaton, who is constantly monitoring the suppliers with the ability of Pro Nett, which monitors call-out and reactive times. The ability to use asset management enables Jen to accurately report on actual spends and recurrence problems related to all equipment. That enables The Alchemist to make the decision on whether we persevere or change brands on certain equipment.

What is your view on equipment warranties? Does the length or terms of warranty cover influence your purchasing decision?

Equipment warranties used to be a contentious issue at one time. One-year used to be an industry standard but now we are starting to see reputable brands offer two years as standard in some cases. However, it would be great to see longer warranties to reflect the belief that they see in the products being sold. When we are looking at new products they need to be adequate to do the task intended, energy efficient and have suitable warranty cover for defects that are beyond our control.

Generally speaking, is there anything equipment suppliers could do better to improve the service and support around their equipment?

Recently I have felt there is a real seesaw effect when it comes to the price and supply of spare parts in the industry. As with everything, unfortunately, the cost of parts and labour can sometimes make it more economically viable to replace rather than repair, which is not sustainable and therefore disappointing.

It would be great to see longer warranties from suppliers to reflect the belief that they see in the products being sold”

Suppliers say that connected equipment can really help in terms of identifying maintenance issues before they happen. What’s your view on this? Are you starting to buy equipment that allows you to analyse performance and usage?

We have installed a DCKV system which enables our HVAC contractor to dial into our BMS panel when we have issues and resolve remotely. This saves on call-outs and helps get our equipment back up and running in a shorter amount of time. Once installed, it also controls the supply and extract fan, and ramps up and down based on the amount of cooking. It not only helps with our electrical usage but decreases wear and tear on fans as they now aren’t constantly operating at 100%.

Which areas of the kitchen or types of equipment pose the greatest challenges from a service and support perspective?

The biggest challenge is that a lot of equipment and parts are imported to the UK, which is making it harder to repair due to lead times on items of spare parts that were carried by suppliers as stock at one time.

And finally, what is the focus for The Alchemist in 2022 — is it all about firing up the growth engines again following the disruption of the last two years?

We have got many refurbishments in progress — The Alchemist Spinningfields reopened at the end of last month after a four-week closure and there are more planned throughout the year. There will be a new opening in Glasgow later this year, for example.

We are also looking to build on our menu offer to create theatre through the incorporation of Hibachi Grills as well as looking at how we can look at more sustainable produce through seafood and ketchup – we use RubiesInTherubble ketchup using rescued fruit that looks imperfect to the supermarkets, which lets us offset 8602kg Co2. We have also increased our plant-based offering to 44%, which offers the customer a chance to have a more flexitarian diet whereby they may feel they want less meat and fish days throughout the week without cutting it out completely.

IN PICS: Chefs from The Alchemist sprinkle their magic

Tags : Seamus O'DonnellThe Alchemist
Andrew Seymour

The author Andrew Seymour

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