Business is booming for BII member Gareth Pugh, director of the Windsor and Maidenhead Boat Company. Gareth gained his experience in hospitality having studied catering, then made the transition from working at exclusive central London restaurants, to purchasing a fleet of 4 fabulous boats to host events and dinner restaurants.
This distinct workplace change came with its own set of challenges specific to working on the water, and recently Gareth joined the BII to make use of some of the essential benefits offered to those working in the licensed trade…
BII: When did you join the BII and what prompted you?
Probably about 7 months ago, we were recommended to join the BII as a great place to get resources - in terms of industry advice, legal advice and the Marketplace. It’s been really useful actually.
BII: What benefits have you used?
We’ve used the legal advice line, and they didn’t know exactly how to help us straight away but they got back to us in good time with a real competent answer which was fantastic.
You don’t expect them to know everything, but it worked really well. Once you’ve got your membership number and your case number it’s straightforward – the legal advice line number is saved on my phone now.
We’ve also used CPL Online through the BII Marketplace, and the online portal that they offer has been really good for training our staff. It’s helped with health and safety compliance and given the staff a bit of motivation because now they feel they’re getting in-house training.
Being on boats we obviously have a lot of other health and safety stuff that applies, but the CPL Online training has made people think more about the general health and safety in the work place. It’s been quite valuable really.
BII: What’s the best thing about working in the hospitality industry?
It’s always been a sort of dream of mine to have restaurants. I went to catering college and obviously working in London, it came from there really. The best thing about working in the trade is opportunity to have fun really, because you’re working with customers and clients that are there to have a good time and it’s your job to make sure that happens.
There’s nothing better than when somebody comes up and says, “That was a wonderful meal” or “We’ve had a really nice time thank you” – that means the world to me really. If you’ve done something nice for somebody you’ve made some life memories for people.
BII: What inspired you to take your restaurant experience to boats?
I would have to blame my uncle for that one, he had his own boat and I used to help him to get some extra cash really just sort of as crew. We quickly realised that through college and university I could easily handle his catering and that sort of led to me converting my garage into a 5 star rated production kitchen.
I started doing his food, then this fleet of vessels came up about 4 years ago, so I went to the bank, was fortunately given a loan and it’s been great fun ever since.
BII: What are some of the challenges you face working on a boat that you wouldn’t get in a typical restaurant?
You can never just pop down the road and get something you’ve forgotten, when you’re out - you’re out. You have to make sure you have everything you need, all the supplies. And be ready for any eventualities, with food requirements these days there might be someone that lets you know they’re vegan or dairy-free, and you haven’t necessarily thought about what’s on your menu that can cater for that. So you have to sort of come up with something you’ve got.
We’ve got a sort of ‘get out of jail free’ box of stuff that we can use to tailor some of the dishes. That’s one of the things we’ve learnt the hard way!
You try the best you can to tell everybody exactly what the menu is, and ask to let us know if there’s any dietary requirements… but you know even as recent as last year new year’s eve we had 70 people come for dinner, we were just about to start the main course... we managed to sort it out. That’s what we keep reserves for!
BII: What else do you have to consider when preparing for service on board?
One of the real biggest challenges is keeping staff focussed and motivated. There isn’t necessarily anywhere you can hide on the boat…When you’re out on the floor looking at customers it’s essential that you have a big smile on your face, and if anybody’s getting you down or anything just find yourself a quiet place.
You can just take a minute to compose yourself and remember that this is second nature to us, but it’ll be the customer’s first time out on a boat they’re not used to it, it’s just part of the challenge really.
And as much as it’s still the same old skills (required for working in a restaurant), it’s still a bit unique because space is at a premium (on a boat), you’ve only got a certain amount of water so you can’t just wash up constantly or run the taps.
When beer line cleaner is going through the pumps and staff go to put it down the sink, you have to say ‘well no you have to use a tank sink as that one would have been going straight into the river.’ You have to think about that sort of thing.
BII: What do you look for when hiring staff for your boats?
It’s really difficult because we’ve had quite a few staff, obviously due to the nature of the industry, so we kind of find if they’re just smiley happy people they can manage with things so much easier.
There’s skills that we can teach and train them on the way, but if you’ve got somebody who really isn’t good at listening or taking advice then they’re going to find it really hard.
BII: Your business is quite reliant on the seasons, how do you use the typically quieter Autumn and Winter months to your advantage?
It is a real challenge actually and we sort of find at Christmas it works if we have some really well designed Christmas packages, affordable and interesting ones, and we make sure the boats are well heated.
But one of the key things we do is actually use the quiet time to sort of get all of our training done, look at the business, our marketing strategy for the year, our website, and we do any menu development.
So when those key months come along, when we can actually make money, as we’re sharp and as ready as possible to maximise our income by that point.
We don’t wait to the middle of June to think ‘oh we better take a day and train people,’ because you’re losing the time when money is to be made.
It’s kind of better than a land based venue because instead of it being ongoing training 365 days a year we’ve got some time to sort things out and deal with any issues before we hit the season again.