Episode 131 Victoria Searl

Less so someone’s journey through hospitality this week, and more of a deep dive into a topic I hope hope you will find useful.  Today I’m chatting to Victoria Searl, founder of Data Hawks.

I’m fairly techie and I’ve found it frustrating over the years seeing the potential of data in the hospitality sector.  Cleary unlike for example selling double glazing, we operate in a social space where people often want to hear from us.  Where guests are happy to take photos and share them to social media, where they are happy to check in and arrange to meet friends.  And whereby perhaps sharing data on birthdays, or dietary preferences or working patterns to help fill quieter times of the week are all things the customer is happy to share, since they actually want to hang out with us.  So with a potential positive relationship with data, the consumer and the business I wanted to explore  what is actually possible, is it easy, is it hard, are we doing all we can and what should we do with the information we collate.  Victoria has held a number of senior marketing positions in well known brands, as well as an operational career in hospitality.

Find DataHawks online or follow Victoria on twitter, or LinkedIn.  

Episode 130 Phil Haughton
Better Food Stores & Cafes

Phil Haughton has had a great food adventure over many decades.  He has just written a book ‘Food for Thought’ that brings together this journey, combined with recipes and producers he’s met along the way.  Phil’s current business is the Better Food stores and cafes dotted around Bristol.  That combination of combining the hospitality of a cafe drawing people into the building and then hopefully inspiring them to leave with some exceptionally ethical and delicious food and drink is the evolution of a lifetimes learning for Phil, and now his wider team. 

Despite Phil’s desire for all organic he is pragmatic enough, particularly after previous insolvency, to recognise you do also have to sell what the customer is willing to buy.  Perhaps rather than seeking ethical perfection, we must take people on a journey in smaller steps. An upgrade to free range may sometimes be more palatable than fully organic for some products.

Phil has travelled the country finding the best suppliers, has set up and invested in community farms, has lived in a practical commune in Scotland learning how to live off the land, has set up and closed a veg box delivery business, has found the takings from his business in the bottom of a freezer and has defended the ethics to sell meat in a considered and informed way.  In essence through a lifetime of learning and business Phil no longer has to think about the provision of food and farming and hospitality in the UK, he really knows how it works.  He can see the challenges, but has some great, informed perspectives on what and how we can be better.

See Phil on YouTube, or follow Better Food on instagram or twitter

Episode 129 Hamish Martin
The Secret Garden – Edinburgh

Hamish is a brave soul who at the age of 41, with his own business and a career working around the wine and whisky trade decided that his number one love in the world was plants.  Not only was he brave enough to sell the business, he was crazy enough to have no idea where his next adventure would take him.  He pretty much let the plants decide.  He went off on a learning journey meeting an inspirational medicine man along the way.  A dream and a country walk and soon enough he’d stumbled across a beautiful plot of land not far from the city.  Well, dilapidated and covered in weeds may have been a better description for most, but for Hamish, it was a vision of beauty and he convinced his wife, 4 kids and five dogs to live in a mobile home on the land and create something beautiful.

Now he has a distillery, a cafe, a herb garden, an owl, an actual house and an incredible story to tell.  Along with products in M&S, Fortnum and Mason and more. Unlike most in hospitality Hamish sees a herb as medicinal rather than culinary.  His description of a dandelion will make you see the plant and the universe through new eyes.  His willingness to go on a journey with no plan will inspire you to be brave and take risks and follow your heart, perhaps more than your head.  He’s also about to convince you to stop feeling guilty about not mowing your lawn enough, and that alone is a great reason to listen.

Whatever you are doing, enjoy the image of Hamish and his owl, in a tree house, overlooking his garden, yet still nailing being yet another wonderful human of hospitality.  

Find Hamish on the website or on instagram or twitter

Episode 128 Darren Venables
Estate Manager – Chewton Glen

Unusually we recorded this one, with my golden retriever ‘Jasper‘ whilst giving him a walk around a 130 acre country estate. But more importantly I was joined by Darren Venables, the Estate Manager at the Chewton Glen Hotel down in the New Forest in Hampshire. 

Darren has been working at the Chewton Glen for over 30 years so really has seen a huge amount of change, and as far as the grounds are concerned has curated much of that himself. And our wide ranging conversation typifies the reason for setting up this podcast.  To shine a spotlight on what happens behind the scenes of hospitality.  So much that the public may never get to hear about, or even imagine is fundamentally supported by the hospitality trade.  

Developing an orchard of 250 of the rarest trees in the country perhaps, or breeding your own Queen bees, or surveying wildlife on an annual basis, or attracting a wider species of birds into a habit for the first time in decades, to growing food for a cookery school, to planting xmas trees and so so much more.  I just hope conversations like these open your mind as to how much awesomeness the independent hospitality sector is responsible for.  And remember, where you decide to spend your cash, in supporting these genuinely small and hospitable businesses, really makes a difference to the type of world we are all going to live in.  Less dominated by bean counter international chains and more diverse and richer for humanity and the environment. 

Find Darren on Instagram, twitter or visit the Chewton Glen website

Episode 127 Sarah Heward
Real Food Cafe – Scotland

Sarah has been pretty vocal throughout the pandemic in representing the Scottish Hospitality Sector.  

I wanted to chat with Sarah in the first instance about how somebody goes from being the MD of a decent sized company in the city of London, to buying an ex Little Chef by the side of an obscure road in rural Scotland. Along the way driving revenue to over £1.7 million per year from a pretty small footprint. And secondly how Sarah had embraced technology to revolutionise how this road side cafe operates.  Motivated by the pandemic, but along the way learning some really interesting things that I think the hospitality sector at large is going through. Probably five years worth of technical evolution in one year as we move from ordering from a human, to ordering on an app.  Not in evening restaurant service, but very much so across the casual daytime sector.  This leads to challenges around the user experience, but some potential big benefits if, as appears to be the case, spend per head increases, whilst labour costs decrease.

Sarah also makes some great points about the infrastructure busy tourism destinations are likely to need to have in place if we are to experience the staycation boom most are expecting.  It’s not just about business being ready, but car parks and toilets and roads and so much more.

Find the Real Food Cafe online, twitter, or instagram