Bethan James, Operations director for Payne + Gunter

The Staff Canteen

Bethan James discusses his role as Operations Director at Payne + Gunter and his own inspirations with regards to pursuing a career as a Chef.

Name: Bethan James

Place of work: Payne + Gunter

Role: Operations Director
Chef Skills

Mike Mounfield takes us through his personal experiences whilst being in the Culinary Industry. These key skills that young Chefs and industry professionals learn as part of their basic training.

How long have you been in this role?

15 years.

What made you go into catering?

 After studying a Higher National Diploma at South Devon College, I joined a graduate programme with Payne + Gunter in 1991. I have since worked my way up to become operations director.  

Joining as a graduate how long did it take you to work your way up to Operations Director and what did you have to do in order to progress to this level? 

It took hard work and determination. In 2000, nine years after I started out I became Operations Director. I am a self-motivated, driven individual and could see my goal in sight from day one! 

Do you think you were offered enough advice when you were considering your options?

Nothing is handed to you on a plate, therefore you have to have your own determination to pave your way. This is a very versatile industry with many different routes but, if you know where you want to get to, you’re passionate about food and drink and you’re a stickler for detail, advice is available if you ask for it.
Tell us a bit about some of the events Payne + Gunter has catered for.
For the London Olympics 2012, we catered for 24,000 guests over 17  days. This was a huge achievement due to the sheer magnitude of the event in terms of logistical planning. 
 After the Globe Theatre had finished renovations, we catered for 12  people on the main stage, which was a really inspiring space to work in. 
 At the BRIT Awards, we used British, seasonal products with a twist, with a great culinary team who came up with quirky elements to make the menu fun, but refined. This year’s dessert was based on a "sherbet fountain", a classic English treat from the sweet shop bringing back feelings of nostalgia and made using an old English recipe dating as far back as the 1600's.
We teamed up with Madame Tussauds and Executive PA magazine for an event in April which showcased the venue, the catering and what it takes to deliver the famed BRIT awards. The event, ‘Executive PA Dine with the Stars’ welcomed guests with a Champagne reception, followed by a taster of the elegant and stylish menu along with a Q&A from Maggie Crowe OBE, BRITs Event Director. Rolling out a show-stopping menu to more than 4,000 guests in less than 75 minutes is no mean feat, so it was nice to present a scaled down version at Madame Tussauds. These events reflect the dynamic nature and flexibility of what Payne + Gunter is capable of.  

On average, how many events do you cater for each month?

Each month we cater for, on average, 12 events throughout London's unique and unusual venues and at locations throughout the UK. From the Ryder Cup’s Players Dinner in Cardiff Castle, to the BRIT Awards at The O2, every event has a specific brief for varying numbers of guests and dining areas however as a constant, we deliver excellent British food…with a twist!

Do you have separate teams for each venue or is there one team which switches from place to place?

We are one team which I think is one of Payne + Gunter’s biggest assets. Our venue knowledge and ability to lead a team to deliver exceptional events, in some of the most operationally challenging environments, is what makes us one of the best operators in the industry.

Do you think that catering is a somewhat forgotten part of the hospitality industry – do you think there is enough focus on this area when someone is looking at which route to go down?

As a student, although you may have studied all the theory, you can only get in-depth insight and exposure to the different facets of the industry, when you join the workplace. 

What does your recruitment process involve? 

We have a clear recruitment process which enables us to assess each candidate on their own merits so we find the best people for the job. When hiring for Payne + Gunter, I am looking for a balanced character, who has the required skill set to add to the existing team and of course will help deliver a brilliant service for clients. 

What are you looking out for on a CV and in a candidate when they come for an interview? 

If I can clearly see relevant experience on the candidate’s CV and they come across as passionate and driven, then I will definitely consider them. It’s also important that they are willing to join a small team in a busy operations environment.

If someone doesn’t have a large amount of experience but shows willingness and enthusiasm would you hire them?

When you’re working in a close-knit team, the strength of character is just as important, if not more important than experience, so if a candidate has an energetic can-do attitude, this would definitely play in their favour.

 What top five tips would you give to someone looking to get into catering?

1. Buy a comfortable pair of shoes.
2. It’s not a Monday to Friday, 9 to 5 job, so be prepared to work odd hours, at some of the most exciting events.
3. Anticipate every eventuality.
4. Be open-minded.
5. And enjoy what you’re doing! It’s hard work but a very rewarding job.

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The Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 30th March 2017

Bethan James, Operations director for Payne + Gunter