The pace of a hotel kitchen without the split shifts and evenings
10 years ago I was working as a Retail Manager for a soft furnishings store when my husband and I started thinking about opening our own catering business. I came to the Sizergh property as a seasonal Catering Assistant just to get a bit of professional experience in the field. In my head, I was thinking I’ll just do it for six months to build up my skills but I enjoyed it so much that I kept coming back for more! ‘Just one more season…’ I’d say to myself, but a decade on and I’m still here, now managing and growing the entire Catering function at Sizergh and still loving the buzz of it as much as ever.
Working in retail, I’d battled for years with constant traffic or parking issues every morning – you’d end up stressed before you’d even started your day. It couldn’t be more different here. You never tire of coming up the drive and being surrounded by the most beautiful landscapes. It was one of the things that drew me back every season and it wasn’t long before I moved up into the role of Catering Manager. It turned out that a lot of my retail management skills were very transferable. I had the experience in managing people, budgets and the commercial knowledge to achieve targets. Over the years, the Trust has become a lot bolder in its commercial and strategic approach. Every penny of profit that we make is reinvested into the property so it’s really important that we’re maximising sales. As a manager, you get to see the impact of your work which is incredibly rewarding.
Another selling point of working in catering at the Trust is that it gives me a great work/life balance as it’s flexible with my other commitments. There are no split shifts or evening work but you still get the business and pace of a hotel or pub catering outlet. I’ve had a number of chefs come from high volume, fast-paced pub backgrounds and be completely shocked by just how busy we are at peak seasons. In spring and summer, it’s often the hardest work I’ve ever done and when we do have less busy months, it’s prime time for me to really focus on our strategy for the next season.
We make our food from scratch using fresh, local ingredients so it’s far from reheating and ready meals and our chefs get to help design their own menus. People have this perception that we’re just tea and scones but that’s not how it is any more. While our customers do still love knowing we baked their scones fresh that morning, we have everything from soups and sandwiches to pies and pasta – not to forget our chefs’ special dishes!
As a Catering Manager, it’s like running your own business so you have to be commercially minded as you’re managing your own budget and lots of people of all different ages and skill-sets. I’ve taken our catering offering from one little tearoom to a completely redeveloped restaurant and I’ve been surrounded by amazing people at every step of the journey. My team are absolutely fantastic, really engaged in what we’re doing and passionate about delighting customers and driving income – I love being able to help them develop their careers. The National Trust has changed a lot since I’ve been here. You don’t have to be a forester or archivist to have a career at the National Trust, of course they’re crucial roles but, you can also be commercially minded and make a huge impact on our work. All whilst knowing that the profits you drive won’t be going into stakeholders’ pockets, but helping to protect beautiful places and spaces for generations to come.
Debbie is Catering Manager at Sizergh. Start your search for a new catering career at the Trust, here.