A FRIDAY CHAT WITH SEARCYS’ REGIONAL DIRECTOR RODNEY PAYNE26 March 2021
Rodney Payne started his career as a chef over 30 years ago before moving into operations management and then joining Searcys over a decade ago. Now, he heads up operational teams across the whole of Searcys and manages some of the company’s most key client and stakeholder relationships. Rodney shared his story with Lev Niyazi, Managing Director of Good Look Events, as part of its new event TV series.
Hi Rodney, can you give us a brief overview of who you are and your role at Searcys?
As a regional director, my main role is to head up the operational teams and manage the client and key stakeholder relationships.
So how did you get into hospitality?
I started as a chef some 30 plus years ago and worked my up to Executive Development Chefs before moving over to area operations management around 17 years ago until now. My operational management experience was in the corporate and B&I sector until I joined Searcys 10 years ago to head up operations for the company.
Obviously, it has been a difficult time for hospitality and events. How have you made sure a company like yours coped with the massive challenges?
Like every hospitality business, we have had to make some tough decisions. However, we have focussed on working with our clients and partners to negotiate a fair and equitable arrangement to work our way through this crisis together. We are also fortunate that we have had the parent company’s support, WSH, which has guided us with a recovery plan to rebuild the business in the coming months and years. We also remained as active as we could by opening our restaurants, cafes and bars when restrictions allowed.
How have you adapted to current restrictions, and what do you envisage for the future of the events this year and beyond?
I have to say that this work is much more satisfying than the work we had to focus on in the first few months of the first lockdown, as we’re working towards an end in sight! We’ve introduced Covid-19 Secure protocols for restaurants, cafes and venues, with each site independently audited. We have our own head of health and safety who supervises the process and advise our venue managers and their clients. We have also created a more focussed menu and reopening plans on how retail, meetings and events have to be managed when venues can reopen.
Our phased reopening will start with the parks and gardens at the end of March, then St Pancras Champagne Bar, followed by The Gherkin, and events from June. When weddings can be held again, we’ll start planning summer party events and so on. The vaccine gives us hope for a good Q4 in time for Christmas. We can already see strong conversions in event inquiries for 2022, so every chance that our industry’s recovery should continue into next year and go from strength to strength.
What guidance can you give young people who are passionate about working in events and hospitality? Many have had their dreams shattered over the past year. So what can we do to help restore some belief and some confidence in our industry?
The hospitality industry has clearly taken a serious knock this year. However, we should focus on compassion and take courage from how loyal our customers have remained positive during the brief times we could trade. You only have to look at the success of some of the home-delivered hampers with restaurants packing up their menus for customers to finish the dishes at home themselves.
There is also a renewed appreciation for our services, and although the industry is yet to get back on its feet, we know that once restrictions are lifted, the business will return. Our industry is still as exciting and rewarding as ever, to choose it as a career path. When I look back, I can still see that I would only have had incredible life experiences because of the hospitality sector, so I wouldn’t have it any other way. The industry will return different, better, and stronger for the challenge.
Is there one experience that stands which left you shocked or in fits of laughter within the time you have been working in hospitality?
That is a real tough one as I have so many but can share so little, as most of the funny memories are not appropriate before the watershed. They usually include a tense moment, busy service, or challenging time where someone says or does something silly or funny. Everyone at that moment needs the lightening of the mood — the more tense the situation, the funnier the moment usually.
And finally, anything exciting in the works?
We have also added 3 new client contracts to our portfolio. However, I can only share the name of one right now! That is the Royal College of Surgeons at Lincoln’s Inn Fields, located here in Holborn, London since the late 1790s. We are working on opening the College’s brand-new conference and events venue called The View in summer this year.