Few hospitality professionals can say they’ve catered for political heavyweights Bill Clinton, Tony Blair and Margaret Thatcher, but Ricoh Arena’s Head of Catering and Services is one of those. Here Mark O’Shea tells us why he loves working in the hospitality industry, and what the industry can do to retain the next generation of talent.
The hospitality industry is one of the most varied you will come across. Prior to joining Ricoh Arena in 2008, I spent 14 years working at various traditional British hotels where I learned the hospitality ropes. This ranged from hosting one of the Labour conferences in Blackpool in 2002 when Tony Blair was in power and had Bill Clinton in attendance – which was surreal - through to overseeing multi-million-pound hotel refurbishments.
The part I love most about my current role is seeing an event operating in full flow, because by the time event day comes around all of the strategic planning surrounding catering has been done and we are on hand to ensure the catering operation runs smoothly.
In a lot of cases this planning starts 12 months in advance with event organisers – this includes anything from preparing staff numbers through developing bespoke food and drink menus and testing them to see if anything needs tweaking.
Like any industry though, you have to learn the ropes before rising through the ranks, and since working for Ricoh Arena I have held an event manager role where I have learned how to manage and run multiple functions during an event.
A role as Head of Operations soon followed where I spent five years managing the venue for all events, ensuring that enough resource was in place, as well as monitoring profit and loss at major events.
Since 2015 I have been responsible for providing catering services for Ricoh Arena on behalf of the venue’s catering provider, currently Delaware North, as well as other areas such as housekeeping, security, HR and accounts. It is a demanding and fast-paced role, but reflects the variety of different skills I have learned whilst on my journey in the industry.
While the industry is a well-paid and rewarding one if you stick at it long-term and work your way up, a big problem that the industry has is recruiting and retaining the next generation because it isn’t viewed as cool or sexy in some quarters. However, for me, whether I am pulling a pint or managing a team of 800 staff, it is the closest thing to being a professional sportsman every week.
Instilling the ethos of working your way up in a profession is something I talk about when I go into schools and colleges to advertise our roles.
We have staff at Ricoh Arena in senior positions who once started out working on the concourses – these entry-level roles are so valuable because they are great at building people’s confidence at working under pressure and dealing with the public, and if they impress, opening doors into other roles.
At Ricoh Arena we place great importance on recruiting those who are warm and friendly, because it is our catering staff who are ultimately the face of the venue. You can teach staff a variety of skills to broaden their horizons but you can’t teach someone to be nice, and that is important.
This emphasis on employing friendly people contributes to the low turnover of full-time staff that we have, but our internal recognition scheme – where staff can nominate others who have gone above and beyond for a prize – combined with regular staff socials, also contributes.
I don’t foresee too much changing within the catering industry over the coming years. I personally feel that for sporting events, people love the tradition of having a pint and pie, and we have already seen a big change in food preferences for conferences and exhibitions where vegan options are becoming increasingly popular, as is the need to grab food whilst on the go.
The hospitality industry serves up a menu of different career options, so if you’re every considering a career change and want a fast-paced public facing challenge, then give hospitality some serious consideration.