How much can it cost chefs to take part in Great British Menu?

The Staff Canteen

The BBC’s Great British Menu is back on our screens and it has been the springboard for many of the UK’s top Michelin-starred chefs including Tom Kerridge, Daniel Clifford and Michael O’Hare.

But when chefs are out to impress, what effect does it have on their wallet and their time during the filming process?

The Staff Canteen wanted to get the advice from past competitors, for chefs who may take part in future series, so we spoke to chefs (off the record!) who have competed on Great British Menu about the cost of props and ingredients, how much pressure there is to have the best props and why the exposure they get is priceless.

Great British Menu 2017 - judges

It is like having the best PR possible, yes you have to put a lot of work in but the rewards are brilliant. I think with something like GBM you have to see the big picture, I have spent a lot of time practising and filming, which takes you away from the restaurant but the increase in business has meant I am now able to employ more staff and buy better equipment.

There’s no denying Great British Menu is a fantastic platform for chefs.

The exposure in terms of bums on seats in restaurants is priceless as are any opportunities which follow. From £1,000 to £15,000 every chef’s budget is different but as they have all said ‘you may only get the chance once’.

You don’t get asked to do Great British Menu every day so you want to put everything into it. I got one of the first quotes from a prop designer and realised at that point it wasn’t going to be dead cheap! But some chefs have done it cheaper than others. I spent around £5,000 – the props help to tell the story and get the theme across but they have to reflect the food too. The year I did it chefs were quite elaborate and they did ramp it up a bit – I heard that one guy spent £15,000 on props! But if you look at it in relation to PR I suppose you can justify it that way, just look at the success stories – Tom Kerridge, Mikey O’Hare for example, it’s hard to put a price on that.

Anonymously they were happy to tell us how much they have spent while on the show and it was interesting to hear that despite the production company being ‘very clear that they will pay for food but the plates and props are to be funded for by the chefs for the regionals’, many of them didn’t consider the personal financial costs until they were already well into the competition.

Andy Clatworthy and judge Michael O'Hare, Great British Menu 2017
After success on Great British
Menu 2015, Michael O'Hare is
now a veteran judge

I thought it would be fantastic for the business and my profile, but I didn’t think about how much it would cost until I started to think about what I needed to put into it. The costs quickly rise and it’s only paid for if you get through to the final.  You don’t realise how much it will actually cost as it’s all consuming. It’s all your head space and you want to deliver at the highest standard possible. I was looking at buying plates which were £140 each. We were looking at well over £2,000 for equipment, plates and props. I imagine some people’s businesses will consume some of the costs but mine didn’t necessarily do that.”

I think it is important chefs take on board the cost of doing it before they write their menus because not everyone doing it is in a situation that's as financially secure as I was. Getting to the banquet means the cost is a lot more than for someone who has just bought plates or props for the regional heats. I spent a lot, it is hard to think exactly how much now but I will have spent in excess of £5,000.  The cost of taking part and the time out of work is a drop in the ocean compared with the increased business and exposure that you will get.

I had no idea how much it would cost me, no one gave me a heads up and I let myself go a bit west with it but I got a ten for my most extravagant prop, so sod it. All my props the first year were really glamorous and the second year they were like something from Blue Peter!

I spent around £1,000 but that was paid for by the business it didn’t come out of my own pocket, I called in a lot of favours and borrowed a lot of things too which kept the costs down. 

kim dish.png.640x480 q80
Kim Woodward in
Great British Menu 2016

Some chefs, however, are yet to be convinced that props are the most important part of the show:

Personally I'm never going to encourage anyone to use any kind of props or showy stuff like that because I'm not a fan of that style of cooking, but also because I think the best way to make a good impression of yourself on GBM is to be true to what you do in your restaurant day in day out, rather than looking a bit "try hard" and coming out with a load of mental props. 

I didn't feel any pressure to do extravagant props at all. I spoke to the BBC beforehand about the fact that I wanted to keep it stripped back and clean and they actually encouraged it. I think a lot of the time the chefs do it to themselves and go all out on props ‘because you have to do that on GBM’ but I was never encouraged to by the producers at any point.

The Great British Menu is very different to the day to day chef ethos

GP goes out the window and although it is about cooking great food, there is a lot of focus on the theatre and hitting the brief.

You’ll find that most of the chefs on there are decent chefs, but what they are not used to necessarily is the theatre – that is definitely a ‘cost of time’ aspect as you are running around trying to find all the props and plates you need. You have no idea what props the people you are competing against are coming with so there is pressure to have the most relevant props in terms of the brief.

I think because chefs went mental with the props at one point, chefs are now saying ‘I’m just putting mine on plates’. One it will save a lot of money but it’s also going against the crowd and it sets them aside a little bit. I think chefs have started to go back to the food this series and I think that’s the right way to go but you have to hit the brief if you are putting all that time and effort in.

Can you really win without theatrical extras? Will a fantastic plate of food be enough to get you through?

13349587 low great british menu
Fewer props, great plates of
food is the direction chefs
have gone this year

If you have an awesome take on the brief and a great plate of food you will win regardless of whether you have bells and whistles on it. Effective props do help to enhance your message though.

The cost may put some chefs off taking part but the clear message from all of these former Great British Menu contestants is that in terms of career and exposure it’s worth it. Just don’t get carried away and consider cost while writing your menu!

I really enjoyed the whole experience and you may only get the chance once; Great British Menu is an investment and as long as when you are on there you deliver, it’s 100 percent worth it. It raised my profile and if I ever want to open my own place or do my own thing that is a huge benefit for me.

I don’t think chefs should worry too much about the cost and focus more on being successful. If you crash out on the Thursday of regionals you’re probably not going to get the same impact on your business as the finalists do. The time, effort and money you put in will be so well rewarded if you are a winner on the show. So I say practice, practice and practice and work to your max because if you don’t someone else will.

>>> Read more about the Great British Menu 2017 chefs here



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The Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 12th June 2017

How much can it cost chefs to take part in Great British Menu?