In our first interview of 2021, we shine our spotlight on long term Member Ralph Kley FIH
Tell us about your career in hospitality.
My career in hospitality ranged from hotel assistant manager, hotel manager, restaurant manager on Chelsea’s Kings Road in the swinging 60’s and Soho in the time when it was really ’different’. I ran the quality control for a large fresh food operation and launched my New York deli diner – Ralph & Co.
I opened my own retail delicatessen and party catering operations and developed my catering production unit for outside catering for home, hall and marquee catering. This evolved into a very successful on-line party service – entrees-ontrays.
My new product development involved much travel and research… over the years I introduced many novel products into the catering industry using Farmers Markets to trial them. These included Spuddies, Larngosh, Sticky toffee pudding, PieMeal, and numerous others.
My final new product was a great soft drink named Sass which was featured at Glastonbury and Tastes London with a great Twitter following.
You have run a consultancy for many years, can you tell us more about this and how you helped hospitality businesses.
As a consultant I assisted many younger people in start ups.
In 1988 I made contact with Sikles school in Nepal whilst trekking and In November 2019 I trekked to the school again, this time taking money and books high into the Annapurna foothills.
It is hard to believe, but the internet was just starting and I formed one of the original .com companies. Subsequently, I developed 13 websites originally coding them myself, prior to templates becoming available (I still have lots of original .com domains). The outside catering events got more and more varied and many hilarious stories can now be told.
What has been your career highlight?
Career highlights include staging a catering contest a couple of years ago. The cooking contest was between a hospitality college and two school catering departments. The logistics were very complicated but it was a resounding success and all the youngsters and staff involved got a lot out of it.
How have you been spending the lockdowns of 2020?
The 2020 lockdown meant my mentee returning from New York back to his family hotel in Dumfries. Meanwhile walking with friends who own West End restaurants we discussed alternative finance streams. These proved quite successful.
On a personal level I just completed a book which was a novel concept for myself. I found my background experiences and family life coincided with others however I would not have been able to write a book alone – however just one chapter was no problem. This obviously resonated with others around the world and lockdown seemed an ideal opportunity to establish this concept. I drew the line at 20 contributors and the resulting book is called ‘A Chapter in The Book’ and is over 350 pages long.
I had also coordinated tree planting in Trent Country Park with youngsters 5 years ago and these saplings had however been trashed. Berkeley Homes were persuaded to plant new ones and my wife and I supervised this planting a few weeks ago. Tree planting, like catering, is a very fulfilling and rewarding enterprise and I have joined other volunteers in a massive 10,000 sapling planning programme a few weeks ago.
How has it felt seeing the hospitality industry so badly affected by the pandemic?
The pandemic seems to have affected our industry more than any other industry. Many hospitality names have really struggled to survive and will unfortunately not resurface phoenix-like from the ashes. This really upsets me after over 55 years in the industry. It is not just the ‘fat cats’ losing their cushioned life style. It is the unknown people who are the very backbone of our industry and have given their lives, in many cases, to their jobs. They have no savings and I am so worried about this unseen aspect. I have started companies from scratch and without the support of my staff they would never have succeeded. Entrepreneurs are the very lifeblood of our industry and even before COVID 19 the failure rate was very high but, importantly, this did not deter them. A lesson to learn.
What do you think the future holds for our industry?
The future will look very different. Many who previously said “when things return to normal” are slowly coming to terms that the ‘normal’ as we knew it, will not return. Hospitality will survive and the mainstay of our industry is innovation. We have always adapted and without getting political, now seems the ideal time to rethink our attitudes. Of course hospitality will survive… just look at the resurgence of home deliveries.
What skills do you need to get to the top in hospitality?
I advise ‘thinking outside the box’ is the main way out of this situation. Don’t forget what we have learnt, but build on it. I saw a programme recently where an Amazon driver was interviewed and it transpired he was a top-earning pilot previously. He realised that firstly he must get an income. Piloting will not be a top requirement in the near future. I don’t advocate giving up… what I do stress is to think laterally. People will still want to eat, they will want to travel . It is up to us to develop ways to make this possible.
The skills we need therefore are adaptability. I love this industry because of the wonderful chance there is to meet and interact with people at every level, of every culture and internationally. The IoH online meetings show this to be true and I urge everyone to make good use of the opportunity to network.
You are one of our mentors, how important is the Mentor Me scheme?
The Mentor Me scheme is such a good opportunity. I don’t say all advice is good advice but by using your intelligence and making the most of the experience of others, often with very different backgrounds, must lead to a deeper understanding of hospitality in many aspects you may not even have considered.
What’s the best piece of advice you have given to someone you have mentored?
People often ask me what the best advice I have given to someone I have mentored and possibly the mentee should answer that rather than me. However, as a ‘grumpy old man’ I have always maintained that there must be a balance between praise and complaints. I therefore seek out management to compliment staff where good service and attitudes are experienced. A very important discipline in hospitality is complaint handling and I always discuss this with mentees. Many organisations handle this well but others leave it too long which can escalate the complaint.
You have been an IoH member since 1965, how has this helped your career?
I have been an IoH member since 1965 having starting at college in 1964 and I have seen the whole industry rising rapidly in its professional approach and on occasion I had to research markets for products I was developing and advice was available from the IoH.
What’s your favourite IoH memory?
I think my favourite IoH memory was when discussing my application to become a fellow of the Institute I was told I had been a member longer than the young lady I was speaking to, had been alive.
Which elements of the membership have you valued the most over the last 55 years?
The professionalism that the IoH offers members and the resources available are very valuable. The library is specialised and one should really make use of the facilities on offer. This comes back to my comments about adaptability. Even if one has trained for a certain field in hospitality now is the time to make use of all online learning and this is where a different aspect of one’s career can emerge.
I have loved my career in hospitality and yes, at time it has been very hard and I always seemed to be working when my contemporaries were relaxing, but it is a wonderful rewarding life and maybe I will write another book about my experiences… if it passes the censors…