Sony Europe Catering Manager Jeanette Branwhite has a stock of signs promoting the different offers from the Varithek front cooking unit.
From Bistro Bar to Omelettes, Wok, Noodles, Grill, Sizzling, TexMex, Breakfast to Hot Sticks, the signs highlight the offer of the day and help drive sales.
“Lunch breaks are getting shorter here,” says Jeanette, “and most of our turnover is within a 30 minute period. The signage and the Varithek itself support what we are saying about our food offer – that it is all about fresh food, seasonal, locally sourced where possible. And, of course, the theatre of it all helps.”
CH & Co has been the designated caterer at Sony for 18 years. Jeanette has been three years onsite and her team are the current holders of the ‘Managed Unit of the Year Award’, presented at the CH&Co Annual Conference. Front cooking was requested by Sony and duly included in CH’s successful re-tender. There are 700 staff in the building, many from Asia and around 60% are women. Head Chef Mike Brown is supported by a Chef de Partie and Sous Chef; a Commis is also joining, from nearby Brooklands College.
“There is no secret to cooking quickly and in front of the customer, but you have to do it well,” says Jeanette. “Feedback is brilliant. The way people eat now is changing; the local Tesco at New Malden has a wok station, for example. The McDonalds approach has died a death…yes they will eat burgers, but they want it fresh and grilled in front of them – not coming out of the kitchen on GN trays. On a Friday, for example, we can sell more fish through the Varithek than from the hot counter – we recently did 30 portions of Nile perch in 30 minutes! You get great smells coming off the Varithek; no greasy, frying smells…just the food. And I got a hug last week from one of the customers…about the duck. We crisped up 45 confit legs on the Varithek, served with Hoisin sauce and egg noodles; it flew out and the customers love it.
“One of the biggest changes I have seen with the introduction of front cooking is that the ladies are now having main courses and no longer heading straight to the salad bar. Front cooking has brought the kitchen outside and it helps bring the staff out of themselves.”
Front cooking is also helping achieve a better sales mix. “Average spend is up by 30-50p when you are cooking a premium product in front of the customer.”
Front of house food service counters and serveries were re-designed and re-installed by Gloucester-based Space Catering, with the counters changed to accommodate the Varithek station. The cold and hot offers are now opposite each other and the salad bar moved to the centre to improve the flow.
Executive Chef Mike Brown adds, “The Varithek is a real asset. You need a well-balanced menu when front cooking; treat the front-cooked dish as Main Course 1, but have a strong Main Course 2 otherwise the front cooking will be too popular and hog all the limelight. Think menus differently!”
Sony Europe was the first major corporate client for CH&Co and this special relationship will reach its 21st anniversary within the contract – an amazing achievement!