In this article, Ben Frizell, Operations Manager at Warren House talks about how he has managed to improve the food & beverage operation whilst achieving saving of £40,000.
Warren House is the epitome of Victorian grandeur. The Grade II listed building is set within four acres of beautiful grounds and has a rich history spanning some 150 years, originally starting life as a private residence for a wealthy family.
With its timeless elegance and tranquil surroundings yet conveniently located within the London commuter belt, close to Kingston-upon-Thames, Warren House has today transformed not only into a fabulous hotel, but an ideal venue. With its nine ground-floor reception rooms and 46 bedrooms, it plays host to corporate meetings, events and private celebrations, including weddings.
The popularity of Warren House isn’t just down to the surroundings however; it has established a reputation for serving delicious, seasonal cuisine and afternoon teas. You only have to take a quick glance at reviews left on TripAdvisor to see that guests are more than impressed, with popular search keywords including “hidden gem”, “beautiful hotel” and “feature rooms”, and many reviews commending the chefs on the quality and choice of food.
We spoke with Operations Manager, Ben Frizell, to discuss the challenges he faces in his daily role, particularly when it comes to walking the fine line between providing the catering team with the freedom to express their creative flair on contemporary dishes for guests, versus managing costs so savings achieved can help towards maintaining the beautiful building and grounds:
“When I joined Warren House five years ago as F&B Manager, my focus was very much on the overall management of our food operations. From overseeing staff, to purchasing food and stock, to making sure everyone is properly versed with food preparation, health and safety standards and everything in between. Then, in 2013, I was promoted to Operations Manager and my remit widened further to include the smooth running of Warren House.”
This is no mean feat when you consider that in one year alone, Warren House typically hosts an average of 40,000 guests, 25 large scale social events and 25 high class weddings, and this is with the venue running at 65% occupancy for its 46 bedrooms.
Continues Ben: “When it comes to managing the day to day operations, the very stature and history of the building brings with it its own challenges. The fabric of the listed building requires careful maintenance, and this means ongoing investment. Only recently, we refurbished our kitchen, updated flooring and had remedial works undertaken on the chimney stacks – this takes careful planning from both an operational perspective, and of course, from a financial point of view.”
Finding the right solutions
Having previously worked as the Assistant Catering Operations Manager at Aberdeen Exhibition and Conference Centre, Ben brought with him a great deal of experience in managing a venue that welcomes around 300,000 visitors every year. As such, he got to work on identifying ways that Warren House could make improvements.
“One of the first steps was to look at how we were buying our goods and services,” confirms Ben. “When I sat down to look at this in detail, it was clear that it was all rather informal. We had a variety of suppliers, all with different terms and conditions, and from experience I felt that consolidating our purchasing where possible made sense. Having worked with procurement companies before, I knew we’d benefit from the buying power so I took steps to make this happen.”
Pelican Procurement was selected to support Ben with his procurement overhaul and an important part of this process was to work in conjunction with the complete catering team to not only evaluate their product preferences and needs, but to deliver assurances that they would still have freedom to make choices regarding product and ingredient selection.
Reaping the benefits
Explains Ben: “At first the chefs were resistant to the idea of working with a third party for procurement; after all chefs don’t want to lose control of their buying. They want to have the freedom to be creative with their menus so they can give guests a dining experience to remember. Pelican was quick to reassure however and demonstrate that a formal tender would instead provide the best of all worlds: better visibility and supplier management, a reduction in costs, plus flexibility of products that would suit our chefs.”
Ben worked with the team to independently analyse all product lines – fresh, frozen, dairy, meats, linen, uniforms and more – to see the lay of the land and agree the chef’s requirements before managing a formal tender process. The output was an immediate cost saving of over £40,000, which calculates to about 14% of the annual budget.
Confirms Ben: “The proof was in the pudding – we had agreed all product lines with the catering team and following the completion of the first tender achieved 14% financial savings. Not only that, Pelican was able to agree supplier deliveries to suit. Everyone was able to see the benefit and so it worked very well.”
“Importantly, the catering team have been involved in the process – they haven’t lost control of purchasing, but instead have been able to get the products they want on our agreed lists, whilst making savings at the same time; savings that can be used towards a range of needs, including the ongoing maintenance of our much admired building.”
Ben continues to work with the procurement team at Pelican, who support Warren House with managing ongoing supplier relationships. Adds Ben: “If there is an instance where a supplier doesn’t hold up their end of the deal, Pelican is able to sort it.”
In addition, the team at Warren House has started using a centralised online procurement system that helps with stock management and e-billing, as well as supporting the catering team’s menu development by analysing costs down to the price-per-serve, in addition to delivering integrated allergen information.
“I’m sure we’ve only touched the surface of the system yet I’m now able to access management reports so I can quickly see what is being spent where. We are able to manage our stock very easily too, as well as directly manage orders, while the e-billing automatically pays suppliers so my inbound paperwork is becoming less and less. To bring everything together in one place, gives me a great sense of control and visibility over our product purchasing.”
Concludes Ben: “The way in which our food and beverage procurement is managed has improved for the better. Our chefs are open to receiving suggestions from Pelican and trust the impartial advice being provided. They are not aligned with any suppliers but instead have our best interests at heart: this has resulted in many benefits for Warren House as a whole.”