Zoë Watts MIH is the commercial director at Vacherin, the specialist London caterer. Zoë has extensive experience in event catering, having previously held a range of management positions at the Royal Society of Arts, Tate Art Galleries, The Museum of Natural History and with the events caterer Creative.
You recently joined the Institute of Hospitality.What attracted you to become a member?
I’ve been meaning to join the IoH for years, 26 to be precise! Several of my colleagues at Vacherin are Fellows or Members and I’ve seen first-hand the opportunities that membership affords, so decided it was better late than never.
Tell us more about your current job role at Vacherin.
I’m Director | Commercial at Vacherin and oversee all sales and marketing activity. I’m one of a team of six who make up the operational board so I’m very much involved in all aspects of Vacherin’s strategy and direction.
We’re a boutique, independent catering company – with us it’s personal, we enjoy fantastic relationships with all of our clients. For me that’s what makes my role at Vacherin extra special as I don’t lead a sales team that our clients will never see again post contract award; we all have a personal interest and pride in working with our Food and Operations teams to deliver what we’ve promised.
What do you love most about the hospitality industry?
The endless opportunities to be creative whether it’s with the menu, service, marketing campaigns, staff awards or client events. I work for a company where we encourage bright ideas and creative suggestions from every single member of staff – it’s so rewarding to see ideas for the next best thing coming from our on-site teams – and then playing my part in bring the ideas to fruition.
Why did you choose to work in contract catering?
Throughout school I wanted to be a dentist! However, at sixteen I got a job working in the menswear department for BHS but swiftly switched to working in their coffee shop. I also waitressed in a local pizza restaurant – loved both environments and lost all ambition for checking out teeth as a career. After graduating with a BA (Hons) in Food and Accommodation Management I started out as a general manager in the cultural and heritage sector and was privileged to work for some amazing institutions including the RHS, the Royal Society of Arts and Tate Galleries in various operational catering, events and project management roles. I switched to a client role at the Natural History Museum as Head of Events, Catering & Filming. It’s only recently that I made the move to B&I catering when I joined Vacherin…and having experienced the quality of our food, and the passion and creativity of the people in this world, I regret not making the transition sooner.
What advice do you have for those looking to progress their career in hospitality?
Get the best grounding possible at an operational level so that as you progress to senior management and beyond you are managing teams who appreciate that your knowledge comes from experience.
What is your quote to live by in the workplace?
I’ve borrowed one of Steve Jobs’ quotes:“Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle.” I’d add to it by saying have fun, look after your people and be fair.
What gives you the most job satisfaction?
Working for a company with high standards, high morals, with a team of positive people who are proud of what they do and who they work for – and with very happy clients and customers!
What is the biggest challenge the hospitality industry is facing right now?
Regardless of which sector we operate in, it has to be recruitment. A recent YouGov poll stated that 330,000 staff working in UK hospitality are considering leaving the UK as a result of Brexit. We must all step up to the challenge we face and up the ante with changing any negative perception of our industry, recruitment initiatives, training and looking after the people we have.
What’s been the biggest change you’ve seen in the industry during your career?
The demands and expectations of the consumer in relation to food quality, provenance and seasonality plus an increased demand for imaginative and healthy plant-based menus – it’s all good news for our health and for the planet.
What elements of Institute of Hospitality membership are you most looking forward to using?
Meeting like-minded people, learning from each other and working together to promote our industry – all whilst enjoying good food and wine naturally!