Experts from the catering industry gave their insights during a webinar for members of the Garden Centre Association.
Chris Brown from leading catering consultancy, Turpin Smale, discussed sales and customer numbers while Penny Cook from Penny Cook Recruitment gave her view on the challenges the industry is facing.
Iain Wylie, GCA Chief Executive, says: “We’d like to say a huge ‘thank you’ to everyone who attended the webinar, including Chris and Penny for giving us their expert insights and Ben Harrison from Haskins for facilitating the session.
“To start we heard from Will Blake, Managing Director at St Peters Garden Centre, who outlined the development of its Potting Shed Restaurant from a 90’s restaurant, to its latest refurbishment in 2015 as a self-service operation, to its present-day table service facility.
“He explained that the counter service operation couldn’t be scaled up, however, the Covid-19 pandemic was the opportunity to reconsider. The restaurant was refurbished, rebranded and converted to table service when closed during the second lockdown. This has resulted in better food quality and customer experience and Will is now proud of the restaurant.”
Tammy Woodhouse, Managing Director of Millbrook Garden Centre, and also the current GCA Chairman, showcased the two different operations that its two centres have, The Green Café at Staplehurst and the Mill at Gravesend. The Green Café is table service, but the Mill remains a counter service operation.
Iain added: “Tammy explained how The Mill and The Green Café operate and that The Green Café was refurbished in 2020 and now has 80 covers. They use the same menu and price points at both, with a few tweaks.
“Chris Brown commented that it is always an idea to analyse the figures, adding in these times of food inflation it is more important than ever to control costs. He advised that garden centre owners should remember competitors are not other garden centres, but other leisure attractions such as museums or farm shops.
“He said successful garden centre restaurants see themselves as leisure attractions and suggested visiting Wetherspoons and trying their app, which he believes is one of the best examples of using this technology in the hospitality sector. He then went on to cover the wider market and the recruitment challenge.”
Penny Cook has more than 25-years’ experience in catering recruitment.
“Penny believes the problem facing hospitality is bringing in new talent. There are 176,000 hospitality vacancies. Brexit might not have helped, and the pandemic gave people time to reassess and change careers.
“She advised that to attract staff you have to pay above market rate. She said garden centres offered a good work/life balance compared to most. She also suggested first interviews should be done by Zoom/Teams to cut out no shows and centres should consider paying for trial shifts.
“She said centres should be flexible with working hours and recruit from all backgrounds, including out of sector. They should be clear on who they want to recruit as kitchens and front of house need different skillsets. Always include salaries on job adverts. Always hold second interviews and always provide feedback on interviews, she said.”
Some of Penny’s brief pointers included:
Give people a reason to stay, not a reason to leave
- Ask them how they are doing
- Give training
- Social media – tell people what you can do for them
- Not everyone wants to go to university – contact local colleges
- Bonus – offer introduction incentives
- Make contact with the Job Centre
- Identify training/progress within existing team
- Retention benefits
- Employee share schemes
- One-off cost of living payments
Iain continued: “Chris Brown supported what Penny said, citing a commitment to paying the ‘real living wage’ by some businesses has helped retain staff. He thought garden centres should consider this and other benefits to boost retention.
“Finally, a few ideas were discussed on the challenges garden centres are facing. With social distancing, garden centres were places that were considered safe, now there is a change of mindset, it is a race to get people in and return to ‘normal’.
“Overall, the webinar was extremely interesting, and it was great to hear everyone’s opinions on different sides. It was a great opportunity for our members to get together and discuss such as important issue in depth. It gave them a lot of food for thought to take away with them.”