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David George reflects on a 45-year career designing kitchen templates and menus

David George, director

David George has spent 45 years in the catering sector and built up an unrivalled knowledge of what it takes to develop highly effective pub kitchens through his roles with the likes of Hardys & Hansons, Greene King and The Pub People Company. As he steps back from the industry (although he’s reluctant to call it ‘retirement’ just yet!), he spoke to FEJ about his time designing kitchens, what he will miss the most about the industry and where he sees the future of equipment. 

What first brought you into the catering industry and what was the career path that led you to Greene King and beyond?

It was pure chance to be honest as I was at art college studying technical drawing. I had to get a part-time job in a local tenancy pub to support all the materials I needed for the course. It was there as a 16-year-old glass collector I decided I preferred working in a pub with the public – more so than my course work! – so decided to look into this industry further.

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That’s when I joined Grand Metropolitan in their Berni Inns division as a trainee assistant manager back in the late 1970s. I spent six amazing years with them and this is where my first experience of cheffing began, thus understanding the ergonomics required within commercial kitchens.

Where did you go from there?

I then progressed my career working for a small number of independent companies and two years with Greenalls at what was then their Quincey’s American diner division. I’ve also had experience in my career managing and developing kitchens and menus in European and South American concepts.

I then joined Hardy’s and Hanson’s in the East Midlands as their catering development manager before becoming head of food development for Greene King in 2006, where I spent the next 10 years building and developing their multiple branded food offers through reinventing and developing both kitchens and their equipment requirements through to their relative menus.

You must have some fond memories of your time in the industry. What will you miss most?

To be honest, I always have missed the buzz and adrenaline pump from working as a GM in busy restaurants, especially the American diners with their flair in food and drink. Close behind I definitely miss working with multi-skilled teams of professionals from all departments. This includes partners in the supply chain, especially those in equipment NPD in particular.

I was fortunate to travel to many amazing places around the world meeting innovative companies again in both food and equipment and those memories will always stay with me. I also have to say it has been a pleasure working with some extremely knowledgeable and talented industry professionals over the years, whom I see it as a privilege to have known and been able to establish a long amazing working relationship with.

Looking back, what was the most exciting or rewarding project or programme you were involved in?

When I joined Greene King back in 2006 I, along with the newly-appointed managing director, Jonathan Webster, needed to take a complete overview of the Hungry Horse brand, which was underperforming in all areas. I started with the kitchen design which was easy to see where problems lay in terms of quality of food and speed of serve with inconsistent and unfit for purpose appliances. So I spent my first six months immersed in this brand, firstly designing a set of three kitchen templates for three bands of turnover based on low, medium and high volume food outlets.

These templates dictated a change in equipment types as well as a restructuring of the ergonomics, which was key to speed of serve, one of the brand issues at the time. After implementing the new templates and retraining of the kitchen teams the brand just went from strength to strength over the next two years growing in turnover with new sites being found and built nationally based on incredibly improved performance. This was undoubtedly one, if not the, biggest achievement of my career in the industry. It then helped me to develop the other brands with the same theory applied for not just Greene King but other companies and clients of mine within my consultancy business.

During your time in the industry, what piece of equipment or appliance really was a game-changer for your operations when it came along?

Albeit accelerated cooking appliances had been around for some time, their reputation was rapidly cooked foods but sometimes at the detriment of quality. However, these appliances have come on leaps and bounds over the years in terms of not just speed of delivery but now maintaining the food quality at the highest level. These are seen in retail units across the board these days and play a key part in modern food execution.

These appliances didn’t exist in Greene King until I designed them into the templates which became key appliances for many of their brands. I have to say there have been many other key pieces of equipment, from quality flame grills and combination ovens to frying appliances through to innovative refrigerated storage, which have all played their own very key and fundamental roles within modern day commercial kitchens.

What factors do you feel will shape the kitchen design decisions that pub and restaurant operators make going forward?

Undoubtedly the availability of not only kitchen staff but quality trained chefs, as so many of both of these categories have either left the trade due to the recent pandemic and/or valuable European resources who have decided to return to their home countries or take up careers in other industries. I doubt the numbers available required for the industry needs of today and tomorrow will ever return to where they were pre-pandemic.

So this means our kitchen designs have to be more efficient and run off reduced labour levels more so than ever before. Some of this may come from more pre-prepared or semi-prepared foods for certain concepts and brands but others will undoubtedly come from, as I’ve mentioned earlier, fit-for-purpose equipment and efficient ergonomically-designed kitchens ideally working on smaller footprints. This isn’t by any means unachievable, it just means going back to the start and looking at your kitchen layout versus the menus you wish to execute.

Also, if you want speed of service to be your key business driver, choosing entry level equipment is unlikely to meet your expectations or business model needs. Likewise, you may not need the Rolls Royce of equipment for a fast food pop-up! There are appliances out there that meet the needs of every style of menu designed – it’s just a case of selecting the appropriate make and model, thus output. This is what I focused more on over recent years with clients via my consultancy business.

Why have you decided it’s the right time to retire now?

I would rather call it stepping back than retiring as I don’t think I could ever fully let go of the industry I have loved and worked in for the last 45 years. I was unfortunately one of the early Covid casualties back at the end of March 2020 when I caught this awful virus and back then very little was still known about it or more importantly how to treat it.

I spent two weeks in hospital and I have to say that although the first few days are still a blur those days completely changed my outlook on life. It was touch and go for a while, but I was fortunate to be one of the lucky statistics, unlike many poor people. I also sadly know of colleagues in the industry who have lost their lives to this awful virus and will miss them dearly.

So after my rehabilitation I decided I just wanted to spend more time with my family and particularly my beautiful grandchildren enjoying life whilst I still can and make the very most of it. But I also love the industry so will undoubtedly keep my hand in, but only on a part-time ‘softly softly’ basis over the next few years.

Tags : David GeorgePubsRestaurants
Andrew Seymour

The author Andrew Seymour

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