Olive Services maintains kitchens for some of the most prestigious restaurants in Central and Greater London. Not bad for a company set up an ex-chef tired of shoddy services offerings. Catering Insight met the man in question — Sol Goodall — for a frank discussion on the services business.
You’re originally a chef by trade. What prompted you to launch a services company?
It came from my own experience of working in a kitchen and being on the receiving end of average service, and things breaking down on a regular basis due to either bad service or money not being put into repairs and planned preventative maintenance. I was working in a restaurant as a head chef back in Australia and saw a need for that there. Then I came to the UK about 15 years ago and found the same kind of niche, and that is when Olive Services was born.
How you would best describe what the company does?
Olive Services is a one-stop-shop for everything that revolves around services, maintenance, repairs or fit-outs within the hospitality industry. We try and offer a service where, if you are a restaurateur or a head chef or a manager, you have one number to call and one person to speak to, and in essence that person will then manage your account. It takes away a lot of the headaches.
A lot of the smaller restaurants like it because it gives them one point of reference, so they don’t spend their time chasing 10 separate suppliers, and the bigger groups like it because we manage that process for them and it saves them money. We operate an open-book policy, so whatever cost we incur ourselves for materials we pass that onto the customer and if we get any savings or discounts we also pass that on, and they get a copy of the invoice. We are what I would call quite an honest company.
Do you offer a different set of packages for customers to choose from?
We do, yes. Because Olive Services began as a small company, we don’t want to leave the small guys behind. There are companies we work with that we do a pure reactive service for — if something breaks they call us and we fix it — through to clients like The Wolseley, who we virtually provide 24/7 cover for. We offer both aspects of on-site maintenance: we have engineers who will be there to repair things as they break and then the bi-annual or quarterly servicing of air conditioning, refrigeration and gas works, along with compliance.
What’s your biggest frustration with the industry?
One of the big things we come across is that we are often brought on quite late in the day. The restaurant is open, all the money has been put into building it and the perception is that for the first 12 months everything is all under warranty anyway so nothing needs to be done. But with a lot of manufacturers you need to service things in that first year or the warranty is void. We are often brought in during month 13 or month 14 and find that a lot of designers and architects are wonderful at creating an environment that looks beautiful but is a nightmare to maintain. We encourage people to get us in early on, even if it’s just one meeting for us to show which areas will require access for servicing in future.
Other services firms have suggested that operators are more inclined to take a reactive — rather than preventative — approach to servicing their kitchens in the current climate. What is your view on that?
If I turn the clock back to when it was all a bit scary for everybody, there was definitely a knee-jerk reaction by our customers to tighten the belt, cut costs and cut maintenance to a degree. It wasn’t a huge wave, but there was a bit of a ripple effect. But people soon realise that if you cut the servicing and maintenance you might save money for the first six months or even 12 months, but the costs then spiral out of control.
We recently did a survey of a group that cut their servicing from twice to once. Their call-outs for breakdowns — and therefore the amount of time without equipment — went up by 45%. Putting a cost value on that, it would actually have been better for them to increase the servicing to three times a year and have less call-outs than they did. It is human nature that people do tighten their belts, but most of the guys we are working with now understand that if you don’t service it, it will break a lot quicker.
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What is the most common issue you deal with in the way of servicing these days?
I would say the most regular breakdowns are gas appliances. A lot of it is probably to do with the fact that kitchen porters always used to be employed by the restaurant but now I don’t know a single one of any our sites with any direct employees — they are all subbed out. So you lose that teamwork or awareness of how to look after a bit of equipment. The kitchen porters may be very good at their job, but often they just flood the ranges with water or they don’t know how to clean it properly. It is all minor damage, all thermocouples or blocked pilot jets, but these are things that will stop the range from working until we are called out to fix it.
Did you qualify as an engineer when you set up the company? Or do you just oversee it all from a management point of view?
I head it up from a management point of view. I did a little bit of work with the guys, but I saw what needed doing and knew that there needed to be at least four or five different skill sets and trades. It would take so long to combine all those that I think it is better getting the qualifications and the guys in who are good in each area. And it has proved successful. We have expanded over the years to 25 staff and it is still growing.
How do you view the competitive landscape for catering equipment services?
Over the last 10 years the market has grown with the restaurant trade and it has probably been a little bit over-hyped — people were charging prices that I think were too high for what they were doing. Now I think it is falling back into line with where it should be. There are probably 10 or 12 competitors to us who do a similar kind of thing, but there are also a lot of companies that I think are not quite sharp enough. That also really stems from my experience in restaurants.
A lot of our staff have spent time working in restaurants too and it is about that word ‘service’. It doesn’t just mean servicing a piece of equipment — it is giving a full customer service from the moment you pick up the phone. And it is about having a relationship with everyone from the accountant who is paying the bills to the head chef who is placing the call-out or the GM who is managing the contract.
Name: Olive Services:
Address: 32 Holmes Road, London, NW5 3AB
Tel: 020 3227 4940
Key clients: The Wolseley; Corrigans; Cotidie Restaurant; Terroirs; Inamo; Hix; Bentleys; Front Line Club; Lutyens; City University Club
Focus areas: Kitchen Maintenance; Refrigeration & Air Conditioning; Compliance Audits & Assessments; Plumbing & Heating