All it takes is teamwork …

SeatsIt’s only a ten minute drive along the A56 & A57 to get from Old Trafford to The Etihad but even though they’re in pretty close proximity to each other, the similarities in atmosphere within the two giant clubs ends there! ‘City’ are already talking about conquering Europe while Man-U ex-captain, Roy Keane is urging his old club to ‘get tough’ and is also suggesting that some other personalities need to step up to take responsibility for the Club’s showing over the season and not lay everything at Moyes’ doorstep.

A lot of what Keane says can be translated into one word, “teamwork.” Clearly, City was the more successful club of the two from Manchester that gelled as a team and they have the results to show for it. A disjointed team, for whatever reason will result in below average performance and sometimes even cause the whole shebang to leave the rails completely.

Sometimes the main players in a team forget that there are others who are also part of the same team, just not as prominent. Like the chap who carries the drinks, or the one who arranges the bus for the team to travel in, or the person who makes sure that nothing gets left behind in the change-room when the players go back to their hotel. They’re all part of the team but most people don’t even know they exist. And if their particular function breaks down, it impacts on the whole team – sometimes as a minor irritation and sometimes with catastrophic consequences.

Well, someone dropped the ball at Jamie’s Barbecoa Butchery recently and the whole team felt the impact. But, it only came to light after a freedom of information request was submitted (I suppose some things don’t liked being aired to the public). It revealed that the establishment had received a ‘hazardous‘ assessment and closed down to remedy the situation. This is not the first time this type of problem has plagued Jamie – last year his Portsmouth branch of his Italian chain paid £17 000.00 after pleading guilty to breaching the Food Safety Act.

Many establishments will agree with Jon Rutter and his team of professionals when they say that their stocktaker is definitely part of their team. They work in the background and most folk aren’t even aware that they exist. But without them the wheels of an operation can come off rather rapidly. Stocktaking services provide all the figures needed to keep up to date with exactly what is happening at the premises. Specialist stocktakers ensure that the their extensive experience avoids unnecessary wastage or losses (whether accidental or otherwise) and recommended action is passed on to the client to keep everything running smoothly. Just what a team needs! 

Some restaurants have had a team member suggest installing fish tanks as they can create an ambience of peace and tranquility. Others have tanks so customers can choose their own particular fish or crustacean to have prepared for them. One hotel in the Maldives has gone to the other extreme and has their restaurant built under water to give diners a view of the free-swimming fish, turtles and other sea creatures all around them.

The hotel is inviting the guests to “dine with the sharks” … hopefully the sharks don’t get confused and start thinking the ‘tank’ is showcasing diners for their benefit.

Hold on to your ‘toque’ … the Chefs are on the run!

Over the years many chefs and restaurants have striven to emulate the standards set by the French in the field of cuisine. In the background there has been a cultural war going on as to which nation produces the best food, the best plating, the best techniques. And the perception has been that cost’ has reflected quality – if it costs less, “… then it can’t possibly be as good as Monsieur Chef down the road whose food is frightfully dearer.” Most people have heard of the Michelin Guide and some will glibly boast of having eaten at a 2-star restaurant without really knowing what that means.

modern-table-setting-1013tm-pic-1185Not many have heard of the Gault-Millau culinary ‘rankings’ (pronounced: “go meeyo”). Among the French some even regard this as the food Oscars but compare the Michelin Guide as being the mere Cannes, Palme d’Or of food – still glitzy but not as significant. But those in the know are suggesting that the halcyon days of charging a small fortune for a smear on a plate with a scallop or two and some flowers are over. Restaurateur Jean-Claude Vrinat indicates, among other things that restaurateurs “Re-examine your economic policies, and think of the consumer’s pocketbook.” Cheers from all the consumers out there! (This is what good stocktakers have been doing for their clients for years – constantly examining, re-evaluating and adjusting to keep the client and the consumers happy).

Some trivia here: apparently the Gault-Millau culinary ‘rankings’ work on a score up to 20 and then the restaurant/chef may display from one to five toques (five being the highest). A toque is the correct name for the headgear that a chef wears. Which possibly explains why the Aussies rate their chefs as “1, 2 or 3-hatted” – maybe they just don’t speak French that well.

Looks can be deceptive. This was borne out by the police in Nottingham who nabbed a beggar for something and discovered the chap was carrying £800.00 in notes and small change on him. The proceeds of his three days work. The police also don’t believe that he’s homeless, as he claimed. However they had to let him go, with the dosh. So if a pub or restaurant in that area happen to have what might look like a dodgy character pitch up and ask for a brew and a nice meal, don’t be so quick to move him on. He could be loaded and just wanting a bit of peace and quiet!

The security at Tesco had no difficulty in identifying a horse in their shop in Co Durham though. The recent craze that has been sweeping the world, “neknominations” was played out by the lass on the horse downing a Pepsi (instead of alcohol) as she accepted her nomination and then challenged some friends of hers to upload their own videos within 24 hours. (The “neknomination” challenge is to nominate someone to down a drink in one go while having it videoed, then to nominate two others to do the same within 24 hours). While some of these challenges have been accepted by the nominees with fun and good grace, there have been some tragic events in the aftermath of the craze as people seek to do more and more outrageous things to better those who have nominated them for the challenge. Others have turned their nominations into opportunities to engage in acts of kindness to others less fortunate, making the video and then challenging others to do similar things instead of consuming alcohol.

Organisations and clubs like Rutters Stocktakers, Brighton Rugby Club and others are always up for a bit of harmless fun in the same way some have used the “neknomination” opportunities given to them to help those in their communities – all it takes is planning and dedication – just like making any business a success.

It doesn’t have to be a “gong” …

Well, the New Year’s Honours have been announced and while there will be many happy recipients the question is always raised as to why this or that one didn’t get an honour. Some have even questioned that there are far too many honours dished out than there were in the past. It seems that these days one just has to be a good sportsman or have had a career in showbiz that it almost guarantees some kind of gong. Many would take issue with this, citing all those people who have contributed to charities and the betterment of their fellow man. And they’d be right, but we don’t seem to hear too much about THOSE recipients. The main media focus is on those with fame and who are in the spotlight.

WaiterWaitressThere are a whole phalanx of waiters and kitchen staff who may be considered more deserving of a New Year Honour than some existing recipients  – they also serve, they battle the elements to get to their work-station, they have to contend with all manner of challenges and conflicts in order to deliver whatever goods or services they have chosen to be involved with. They are also unsung heroes to millions of patrons and customers. They’re just not famous. They’re not the public face of the restaurants or the establishment that they represent, but that doesn’t make them any less important or deserving.

And Jon Rutter and his team of stocktakers are in much the same place – they contribute to the success and the smooth running of the establishments that they represent. Yet they are the “backroom boys” unseen and unsung heroes that keep the wheels grinding, the business profitable and the customer informed. When Michelin Star chefs talk about their successes it’s not often they acknowledge the blokes that keep their pans clean, nor those who keep their stock in order and contribute to their profitablility.

So with 2014 looming, stocktakers, servers and backroom folk should take a well earned bow and be recipients of “honorary” awards for services rendered to their industry over the years. They have had to swallow hard and smile when customers have proven to be unreasonable. They’ve had to rearrange the tables to accommodate the large party of eleven when only 5 had booked. They’ve had to explain all the menu items when the customers were too lazy to read what was there in black and white in front of them. They’ve had to contend with the demanding tables, the fussy orders and the demeaning comments and be left exhausted at the end of the ordeal with a tip amount of “zero.”

What would be truly special is that if all those patrons of all the pubs, restaurants, clubs and hostelries across the land would honour those who serve them in 2014 with the respect, goodwill and kindness that Rutters and the team wish others at this time of the year – they may be just as deserving as those receiving Honours from Her Majesty. The “honour” even though it may not be a gong, surely would be appreciated just as much.

Baubles, bungles and khazis

Toilet sign ogaCncGSolid advice given to children by no-nonsense mothers over the decades, “before you leave home to go anywhere, make sure you go to the toilet first.” Trying to arrive at the origin of this down-to-earth wisdom hasn’t yielded any results. Speculation is that the advice was dished out because any “khazi,” other than the one at home, wasn’t up to much and didn’t bear visiting!

Wetherspoon pubs across the country have received platinum awards for their loos. 96 others scooped the gold award for the “Loo of the year award 2013.” It’s always easy to forget, until it’s time to visit it, that the little room is also part of the pub or restaurant and also needs to be maintained and presented to the same standard as the public areas. Those who achieved their awards have acknowledged the role of their staff. Someone has to keep them up to standard and the landlady can’t do it on her own.

With the Awards Season on us (it seems to get longer each year), there are ten nominees being considered for the Observer Food Monthly, Chef of the Decade award. Nigella changed her image for the photoshoot when she discovered she was the only female nominated. So she dressed up as a boy in tux and bowtie to project an image of maleness as only Nigella can. According to reports, she was the most formally dressed of all the nominees and her spokesman made the point that the outfit “reflected her role as a woman in a man’s world.”

Image Adrian van Leen

Image Adrian van Leen

Jon Rutter and his stocktaker team’s efforts in helping to Beautify the Dip took another step forward with the planters scheduled to arrive yesterday. All part of making the town more attractive – hopefully the inclement weather didn’t disrupt the delivery. Clearly though, the stocktakers who attend to Selfridges managed, before the storm hit, to co-ordinate their orders of ginger and other baking ingredients in time for the Christmas window display of a gingerbread landscape. All part of the glittering display the shop is putting on. They’re even offering to sell you a 6ft polar bear for £1600. I know what my domestic stocktaker would say if I brought that home to put under the tree. Escape route, where are you?

But Shropshire chef, Daniel Baynham had a really lucky escape as his shift ended. A tractor, towing a trailer laden with maize, took the corner too quickly and overturned the load on Chef Daniel’s car, crushing it. Apparently this type of thing has happened before and even with the speed restrictions clearly displayed, the tractor drivers obviously can’t read or they think they’re on Top Gear, because they still regularly zoom round the bend. If Daniel had been in his car the outcome would have been much more serious.

Once his insurance has paid out and he can celebrate his escape from bad tractor drivers with new wheels, I’m sure the chef will find an alternative parking place. What’s on the menu tonight, Chef? Sweetcorn fritters?

There’s always next year!

Sorry, folks! We missed it! There is absolutely no excuse except that of not paying attention. Sunday July 21st just slipped by and the opportunity to celebrate National Ice Cream Day has been missed. But, there’s always next year to look forward to – to study what your and your friend’s preferences are. Because it appears that the ice cream you like can reveal what type of person you are. Yes, ice cream can betray your personality. It’s a much more civilised method of revealing things than swilling some tea leaves around the bottom of a cup. Tastier too!

Image: Gabriel

Image: Gabriel

What wasn’t missed, though, was Tom Kerridge being crowned the winner of the best restaurant in the 2013 National Restaurant Awards race. The awards recognize the best 100 places to eat out at in the UK. They get 150 industry experts to go and judge and then cast votes. The full list of awards is a who’s who of the culinary world in the UK with some famous names featured and some special awards too. But spare a thought for the bloke who had to cater for that prizegiving event. Was he nominated?

As an aside, and not taking anything away from Tom’s award for his Hand & Flowers pub-restaurant, one wonders what makes a person the “industry expert” that they send out to test the culinary talents of each nominee. Is it a person who is a celebrity in the food world, like Matthew Fort, or is he too recognizable and would send the restaurant into a spin if he walked in? Or someone like Mike Berry, who reported on Tom’s win? Either way, it would be nice to get a phone call someday and be asked, “could you please visit this list of restaurants and have a main and a dessert, fill out a score sheet for us, and we’ll pick up the tab. But we want an honest opinion and we don’t want them to know you’re marking them.” It would be nice …

One of the quirkier trends that has developed is that of presenting a dish that’s not quite what it seems. Heston Blumenthal did this very successfully with his feasts where the guests ate money, tableware and meat disguised as fruit! And recently there have been more of these types of presentations from other chefs designed to fool the diner into thinking they are going to be getting one thing but the reality is totally different.

Baker Louise Caola seems to be following Heston’s lead, and pretty good her creations look too. Her stocktaker would need to be kept in the picture though. It wouldn’t do to have them counting and costing a couple of joints of beef when in fact they’re just decorated cakes. That could throw the whole profit margin out. Another challenge for Jon Rutter and his teams: make sure that what’s in the store is what it really is – it must be a nightmare round at Heston or Louise’s place.

And the character that ice cream reveals? Tom Kerridge might fancy the chocolate-chip-cookie-dough (competitive), while Heston and Louise the chocolate, to go with their dramatic presentations. Stocktakers? Probably the rainbow sherbet – analytic!

No short-cuts!

In some circles the phrases “time savers” or “kitchen assistant” are regarded as dirty words. And when any suggestion of using an electrical or mechanical appliance is proposed – shock and horror! Surely modern catering kitchens have an array of gadgets and devices that can help the staff produce what needs to be served to the customers? However, there is still a school of purists who would kick against “modernisation” in the culinary field.

Granted, some of the more delicate and refined dishes do need special and individual attention that no machine can replicate. Like making pastry. Pop behind the scenes of any large pie maker and there are machines that mix, blend, add, roll out and do whatever they have to do to produce the pastry for the millions of pies they send off to the supermarkets in pretty boxes. And how much easier is it to pick up a roll of ready-made from the supermarket freezer to make your own “homemade” pie for the weekend? That’s fine for the home-cook, but any true pastry chef would be horrified!

Image: Karen Barefoot

Image: Karen Barefoot

Forget the pastry – what about preparing other ingredients? The poor contestants on Masterchef have to peel and cut and julienne and shred and mix everything from scratch, by hand. But in the real world, one wonders how many kitchens have the mixers, the choppers, the dicers for all this to be done mechanically? Or do the celebrity chefs only use mixers and processors on their TV shows because a producer is shouting in the background about getting a move on?

Doyens of the industry like the Roux family will no doubt espouse the need to do things from scratch in order to achieve the ultimate goal of culinary nirvana with the same logic that should be applied to the use of a calculator – you have to understand how the process works before you can use the short cut!

Jon Rutter and his team of stocktakers are constantly engaged in finding ways to keep their customers up to date with what’s happening in the industry and in each client’s premises in order to ensure they run cost-effectively. Meetings take place all over the UK on a regular basis. Owners, investors, publicans, chefs, restrauteurs, planners, stocktakers – all the main players in the running of any business to keep people fed and watered! The meetings vary according to the type of establishment, but the common factor is the planning aspect. Planning to show profit in the best way possible without sacrificing quality of produce nor customer satisfaction and to ensure the efficient operation of the venture.

One thing a stocktaker could suggest to streamline an operation would be the new do-it-all-in-one gadget to save time that Anne Shooter recently tested. But I suspect that it wasn’t designed for the Roux or Blumenthal style kitchens.

In the same way as the humble “pasty crimper” wasn’t designed for use in the serious kitchens (it is probably also a dirty word with the Cornish Pasty Association). And you can bet your life that the winning pasty at the Brittany Food Festival in Lorient wasn’t a gadget-crimp one either!

The Trevithick Bakery from Cornwall who produced the ‘revelation of the festival‘ probably don’t even know that a pie-crimping gadget exists. But a Cornish bakery has taught the French a thing or two – vive la pasty!

Gum, posh hotels and marlin steaks … busy week!

Milton Keynes is trying to do a “Singapore” on it’s citizens. This will be really good news for those who have been tasked with trying to remove wads of used chewing gum from the roads, from under chairs, from lift buttons and various other inconvenient places. The cost of removing gum has risen so much that the proposal is that for anyone caught chewing it, they will be fined.

In Singapore there has been a ban for over 20 years on selling, importing or manufacturing the product. And anyone caught chewing it can be heavily fined. This must make for a huge adjustment for any Americans who are posted to work there. A concession the Singaporeans do make is that gum is permitted if one has a doctor’s prescription. I wonder what health circumstances you have to declare for the NHS to buy into this.

Rumour has it that negotiations are underway for bids to erect billboards at various main routes into the town declaring: ‘You are now entering a gum-free zone.’

The MK Council is also consulting on late-night levies after the deputy police commander had urged them to introduce this for anyone selling alcohol after 1am. Funds raised by the levy would be used by the SaferMK initiative and applied to projects they are involved with that seek to address alcohol related problems in the town.

On a happier note, the Publican Awards were handed out last night. The Grosvenor Hotel hosted the affair with Rob Bryden in attendance. The 1100 guests were witness to an array of awards from ‘Best community Pub Operator’ to ‘Best Business Initiative.’ These winners and highly commended participants would all testify that part of their success and achievement could be to the value they place in stocktaking firms like Rutters. With careful and sustained planning, structure and foresight, Jon Rutter and his team of professionals continue doing what they need to, to ensure that their clients are in the top echelon of the hospitality industry and as well placed as they can be to earn the awards and recognition of the Industry.

Great white shark off South Africa (courtesy Percy Tours)

Great white shark off South Africa (courtesy Percy Tours)

Pub landlord Kevin Gardner didn’t need the event at the Grosvenor Hotel to bask in the glory of his own trophy that he got a week ago. A long way from Wroxham Road, Kevin hooked and fought a 1,320lb blue marlin that he landed three hours later. Not one for selfishness, Kevin shared his catch with the many islanders on Ascension. And he seems to treat his regular patrons to his catches too, having brought them samples of fish he has caught on his other trips to ‘hook the big one.’ Any local at the Kings Head should be careful when he asks for a “fillet from your latest catch, Kevin.” THIS one was six metres long!

He says that his next quest is to snag a great white in South Africa. Someone had better tell him to be careful, the sharks in that part of the world have been known to turn the tables.

“And the Winner is …”

The start of a year brings with it, apart from some really cold weather and bills from Christmas, the roll-out of the “awards season” … the BAFTAS, the EMMYS, the OSCARS and more. The hospitality industry aren’t left out either. Two that caught my eye are the “BII Licensee of the Year Award” and “The Publican Awards”. Both soirées will take place later in the year, but the process is now in place and some semi-finalists have been named.

There are some who are a teeny bit cynical about award do’s suggesting that they are just an excuse for a good party at someone else’s expense. But on examining the various criteria and some of the categories for these awards, it’s difficult not to feel respect for those making it through to the short list.


The search for the BII winner is about to enter another phase of analysis and judges scrutiny as they look for “genuine passion, outstanding drive and the highest level of professionalism.” And after that is done, those still standing will be grilled in front of the judging panel until the winner is whittled out and finally announced on 14th May.

March 11th at the Grosvenor Hotel will see the presentation of the Publican Awards. These will focus on specific aspects of the industry and recognise their achievements. Awards for ‘Best Late Night Operator’ and ‘Best Pub Employer’ are among the many categories.

These events are the culmination of the process that various branches of the industry use to ensure their standards are at the level to which all should be aspiring. They also serve as a challenge to their peers to raise the bar in the various categories of service, décor, operations, initiative and so forth. Unlike the Oscars where it is all done for ‘entertainment value’ these awards are much more serious as they represent standards that directly impact on the public in the areas of food and drink safety, comfort and accommodation.

That the industry is taking all this seriously is good news for ‘Joe Pub-visitor’ as it ensures there are those who value him not only as a regular but that he goes home well satisfied, well fed, watered and rested too. So those not in the industry shouldn’t view these awards in quite the same light as those awarded for making them laugh and cry from a TV programme or film.

The players in the hard world of keeping the customer satisfied will value stocktaking companies like Rutters in their bid to attain and reach the standards their own industry demands. Without their professional help in the planning, feedback and advice they provide, it is virtually impossible to achieve the high standards these competitive awards are judged on.

The fact is, so many enter, but only a very few are able to achieve the acceptance-speech level. And this is where the unfairness of these awards creeps in. It is only the short list and the final winners who are paraded, photographed and lauded – that the public might conclude that the unnamed remainder of establishments are not good enough. Not so! It is a very tough competition with very high standards and there can only be one winner – it doesn’t mean the race wasn’t hard-fought.

Wouldn’t it be great to see your favourite pub with an award proudly displayed? But if it’s not the winner, it’s still the place that you choose to be – so don’t stop. Your Publican won’t stop trying, and maybe next year you’ll get the chance to have a swig out the trophy, along with the other loyal supporters.