De Vere Venues

Keeping it fresh

In the wake of the current financial crisis, De Vere Venues is shifting its business focus from corporate conferencing towards the leisure industry

De Vere Venues, which also includes the De Vere Hotels Group, is comprised of 30 conferencing and training venues and 12 hotels and resorts throughout Britain. As a leading provider of business venues, the locations that the company provides range from country houses to non-residential inner city spaces, accompanied by various recreational facilities such as bars and restaurants.
De Vere Venues issue 2 2009 b
John Woodward, food and beverage development manager at De Vere Venues talks about how these facilities have been undergoing recent refurbishment so the business can diversify: “We have been investing a lot of money into the leisure aspect of our business, and so all of our hotels are at maximum capacity at present. We have completely overhauled 75 per cent of our bars and restaurants and we have now implemented our unique Steam Bake & Grill concept into ten of them.” This is a chef’s theatre style operation in which fresh ingredients are cooked in front of the customer using a range of different equipment, such as Tandoori ovens, pizza ovens, grills and steamers. He continues to discuss the benefits of this method: “The whole idea is unique because it provides an innovative alternative to the sort of food you would normally expect to see at a conference such as stodgy meals or plain sandwiches. We want to offer a lighter, healthier way of eating at conferences in a manner that also lends itself to the hotel experience. It’s a very flexible concept that can be used for breakfast, lunch and dinner as well.”

Through offering such an original take on the dining experience, De Vere Venues was nominated for restaurant concept of the year in 2008. In addition, as a testament to the company’s policy of training world-class employees, one of its sous chefs, Kelly Snowdon, recently won the award for IACC Chef Of The Year. John elaborates on what this means to the company: “It’s a great accolade for her, and we are proud to have such a talented chef working at De Vere. She came first throughout the whole of Great Britain, and she is the first-ever female entry to win it. She then went on to Utah, America, and came runner-up in the competition there, which is the highest any British chef has ever come. She did brilliantly and we are delighted with her accomplishments.”

In addition to its highly skilled staff and pioneering methods, another key strength of De Vere Venues is the fact that it looks to continually reinvent itself in order to stay ahead of the competition. John explains: “We try to sit down every year to summarise what we have done, how successful it has been and what we can do to improve. We look at market trends and we keep everything as seasonal and local as possible – for example, as we are now moving into the summer months we will start to utilise our outdoor spaces more and place more of an emphasis on our grab-and-go items. We have some great grounds, so our customers will be able to lunch upon a variety of bento boxes or picnic hampers outdoors rather than being sat in a stuffy restaurant. Then when we move into the winter months we will re-assess the situation, and look to cooking warm, comfort foods such as stews and slowly braised dishes.”

Also key to De Vere Venues’ success is its strategy amidst the recession to target business activities towards the leisure industry, as companies are looking to save money by cutting back on funding for conferences and events. “Our board of directors has moved very quickly and the business is very well-positioned at the moment. We have started targeting sales more and we are continuing to invest in our people, as opposed to most other hotel chains that have been forced to cut their sales forces. The hotel industry is suffering, but we have prepared ourselves to meet these challenges by dropping room rates and trying to pick up on food and beverage. We have vastly improved our menus, and expanded upon our room service options as well – we are working on themed nights for specific sports, such as football or the cricket 2020.”De Vere Venues issue 2 2009 c

One of the major issues faced by De Vere Venues is the rising costs of fuel and food in the past year, according to John: “It can sometimes be difficult because we are being charged more for commodities in a time when customers want to pay less. Luckily, we have secured good deals with our suppliers through holding long and trusting relationships and we can therefore get our core ingredients for a decent price, which we can then pass on to the consumer.”

This means the company can look to the future in a positive light, and after recently becoming monitor for the whole De Vere Hotel Group, John believes there are even more opportunities ahead: “This will allow for more cross-branding and a lot more cross-utilisation of people. We will also put additional training in place which is great for the staff, whose growth potential will dramatically increase when they move from venues into hotels and vice versa.” De Vere Venues will also continue to focus its emphasis into its restaurants and bars, as John concludes: “Our plan is to open more Steam Bake & Grill sites, and we have been talking to various people at the moment about actually contracting for them. We have also just picked up a contract for the Liddington Hotel, which recently went into administration. Although this does not come under the De Vere banner, if we can continue to work with administrators to help them turn around struggling businesses and make them saleable properties again, I believe this could be another area of growth for us.”