McMullen’s food development chief Lee Brooks says the pub chain remains just as committed to investing in its kitchens as it did before the pandemic – and that getting the right equipment in can have a massive impact on chef retention.
McMullen’s runs more than 130 pubs and Mr Brooks has been at the helm of its food and menu operations for almost 10 years. His role encompasses setting kitchen templates and specifying new equipment.
Mr Brooks said there was an awareness right up to board level that an ongoing programme of kitchen investment is intrinsic to success.
“We know that if we’ve got the right kitchen environment with the right kit, that pleases our chefs, it keeps them with us and it stops them looking elsewhere. If we give them kit that just isn’t fit for purpose, or the kitchen isn’t fit for purpose – it’s too hot or too cold or there is not enough of the right equipment – it will drive them to look elsewhere.
“Chefs can work long hours and if you take the London sites in particular, many of them are downstairs so there is not even natural light, so the kitchen environment has to be right, it has to feel comfortable. What we ask the chefs to do in terms of delivering a menu in a hot, sweaty kitchen is nothing new, but if you can give them the right kit and the right tools, it plays a huge part in how they deliver it.”
McMullen’s has been working on several new kitchen projects coming out of lockdown, including in London where smaller footprints have forced it to innovate, particularly around cooking platforms.
The chain is constantly evaluating the kitchens within its estate and upgrading where necessary.
“We are very lucky at McMullen’s – we do invest back in our pubs. They are all in a cycle, all on different timelines, so there is never a guarantee when they will be done but as and when the opportunity comes about, a pub will be closed, refurbed and the reinvestment happens, and that is the big opportunity I suppose. When we do have a proper refurb – a full-on refurb – that is when the kitchen will get looked at because we may change the concept.
“On top of that, if our kit does break we don’t do it on a monthly budget and wait until next month to fix it, we fix it there and then. We are aware of the age of all of our kit – we keep a register – so sometimes instead of spending money to repair it we’ll take the opportunity to bring in newer kit, more efficient kit.”
One of the long-term projects for McMullen’s has been to replace older ovens with combis. “I think we’ve probably only got two sites in our whole estate that don’t have a combi. That is one of the key areas that I have been introducing slowly but surely, and where space has always been a real challenge for us we don’t have that challenge anymore.”