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SEWS Micro-Consultancy: Pallant House Gallery Catering Consultancy

Museum Name

Pallant House Gallery, Chichester

Museum Contact

Andrew Churchill, Deputy Director.

Title of Project

Pallant House Gallery Catering Consultancy.


18th June to 20th October 2014.

What was the Project aim(s)?

The project had two aims:

  1. To create a destination fine dining restaurant which offers lunch and dinners (and which can cater for evening/ private hire functions) whilst also setting up a new café offer in an underused area of the ground floor of the Gallery for other visitors who want tea and a slice of cake at any time during the day.

  2. To identify a new catering partner who understands the aims and ethos of the Gallery and can cater for two distinct visitor types. Or, alternatively, a caterer who can offer fine-dining and event dining, and a separate arrangement for a café offer in the Garden Gallery area on the Ground Floor. In the end, we hope to realise a livelier ground floor space with the addition of a café and seating, whilst reinstating the commercial successes a fine-dining restaurant can bring to the Gallery through the restaurant.

What was the impact of the project?

The Chef/Manager and Assistant Manager who were appointed at the start-up stage are still employed with us in these roles and as such have benefited enormously from the advice and start-up procedures provided by Jayne Grocock of Boyd-Thorpe Associates.

The Deputy Director, Andrew Churchill assumed full responsibility for the Commercial brief of Pallant House Gallery during the start-up and learned a great deal from Jayne in how to manage a start-up café and implement a quick and efficient change of operator. The skills required for running a café in-house were not present within the Gallery until this change and as such it has been a huge benefit.

The out-sourced temporary café set-up which was in-place prior to the consultancy did not meet the full expectations of visitors. Due to the great work of Boyd-Thorpe instigating a take-over of the space in just one week (in August!) the handover was very smooth and was immediately met with good feedback. This resulted in an immediate improvement in visitor feedback.

The Gallery is now in control of its own catering arrangements and this has allowed a far more effective and efficient management of the inevitable issues which arise from such set-ups. In the immediate phase (first 7 months) there have been expenses relating to the start-up (most of which are carriable assets).

From 2015/16 we expect the café to make a profit for the Gallery. Overall, being in control of our own catering and being able to manage the process and effect change has been the biggest efficiency.

What went well and what didn’t go well?

The initial brief of the project was to bring in an outside caterer to offer both a fine-dining restaurant and a satellite café in the Garden Gallery area. As we went through the tender process in became clear that we had not attracted suitable tenders and the decision was made to end the process and bring the catering in-house.

What further informed this decision was the realisation, with the advice from Boyd-Thorpe being crucial here, that we could offer a ‘high-quality cafe’ experience which would both meet the need for quality food but also meet the needs of core-customers. It was also clear that this model was the best way of ensuring a good profit.

Whilst this was a good thing for the Gallery it was also clear that many people loyal to the Gallery were disappointed by this decision and wished we were able to maintain a fine-dining experience. Managing those expectations has been a challenge and the process of engaging those critical of the set-up is still ongoing.

We have learnt a lot from the experience as to what our core visitors want from the catering at Pallant House Gallery. Prior to the externally run café, there had been a high-end fine-dining restaurant occupying the space. Whilst successful on some measures and well received by many who enjoyed the quality and were happy with the price, it became very clear that many of our core-audience, volunteers and indeed staff felt disengaged from the catering, feeling it was ‘not for them’. Similarly, the simple temporary café arrangement in place post the restaurant was not good sufficient for our needs. We feel we have met the needs of the customer now.

Having taken the decision to end the tender process, we initially began, with BoydThorpe’s help  to bring the catering in-house and let the current operation run for at least a further 12 months to give it time to fully prove itself. For much of the exhibition period we are full at lunchtime and this has led to a decision to make a further small investment into the space with new tables and chairs to increase capacity at peak times. We will also introduce a takeaway menu in the Spring, increase seating in the garden and extend to the Garden Gallery area at peak times. We expect the café to make a profit contribution in 2015/16. Given that most catering operations do not make a profit for the first 18 months (and have a very high failure rate) we consider this to be a good start.

The timing for the initial brief was well placed but when it became clear that we would not find a suitable external caterer it meant changing the set-up and bringing it in-house in the last week of August. This was not ideal timing but with the amazing support of Boyd-Thorpe who quickly swung their efforts away from the tender process in to supporting us with a takeover project, we achieved this in just one week.

Was the consultant/trainer the right person for the job? Why is this?

Boyd-Thorpe were absolutely the right people for the job. Without them we would not have achieved this outcome. They supported us throughout, offering advice and wise counsel. To make the decision to end the tender process was difficult but they helped us see why it was the right decision. Their support in managing the takeover and providing an Executive Chef to write and install a new menu, procedures, and staff was invaluable

How did you encourage everyone in your organisation to engage in the project?

Right from the start when we brought the catering in-house we were very clear that we would be one team. The Front of House teams were incredibly supportive of the new staff providing help with the tills and the quirks of the kitchen and general building. The maintenance team were incredibly supportive of the new kitchen staff and pitched in to help the set-up. The manager or assistant manager have attended the weekly staff meeting from the very start and their successes have been reported. We have also worked hard to ensure we all ‘talked-up’ the café to encourage first users, particularly those who wish it was fine-dining.

Top Tips

Everyone said, including Boyd-Thorpe, that the manager would be the hardest person to hire. This proved to be absolutely correct! We hired a young, very enthusiastic Manager who was a little untested but we felt was able to grow into the position, and on the face of it, the person appeared to be managing well.

However, it became clear a few weeks in that the person was not coping. When this became apparent we acted quickly and, with regret, ended their employment. This was done amicably and with a full and clear explanation that it was simply their lack of experience, not their goodwill and enthusiasm. We were fortunate to be able to promote the chef to Chef/Manager and the Front of House Manager to Assistant Manager and thus avoid any period without anyone in charge.

So our top tip would be: Be really careful who you appoint, and be prepared to be wrong and act swiftly if that is the case.

What are your plans for the future?

As the Deputy Director now has overall responsibility for the Commercial activities the learning is fully embedded in the organisation. In addition the Chef/Manager and Assistant Manager were both recruited under the consultancy period and thus carry this learning and act on it daily.

There is still more work to be done to keep improving the menu and this is ongoing as we learn what our customers want. We need to invest in new furniture and improve the décor, which is planned for the next 3 months. We still want to bring the café out into the public spaces and proposed changes to the ground floor will make this more and more practical.

Overall Cost of Project

£9,122.50 plus expenses +VAT, including the SEWS micro-consultancy of £5,000.