My route to management in contract catering
Friday 30th May 2003 09:58
Although executive trainee Jana Zschieschang, 26, has been with contract caterer Avenance for only six months, her bosses believe she is one of the profession's rising young stars.
Her route into the industry is certainly unusual. With only one year to go before taking her exams to qualify as a doctor in her native Germany, Zschieschang made the bold decision to change direction. "I really enjoyed studying medicine but I didn't want to practise in Germany," she says. The additional specialist qualifications needed to practise abroad would have required a further five or six long years' training.
If hospitality is not an obvious crossover career choice for an aspiring doctor, it made perfect sense to Zschieschang, who had spent many enjoyable university holidays working her way around Europe's restaurants and hotels. "I chose hospitality because it's so lively, and it's an easy area to meet people with differing backgrounds," she says. "I also love to travel."
So it was off to the Swiss hotel school, Ecole Hôtelière de Lausanne, for its 14-month masters in hospitality administration course to gain the necessary background for a high-flying career in the industry.
"I came across contract catering when I worked in a hotel for the final college dissertation," says Zschieschang. "I immediately knew this was what I wanted to do, because it was a very business- and finance-orientated area, and also very innovative."
Luckily for her, scouts from the recruitment consultancy Chess Partnership recognised her potential and organised five interviews with UK contract caterers. "I got five offers. I just couldn't believe it," she says.
"I chose Avenance because it is quite a young company and very innovative," she explains. As a management trainee, Zschieschang is working her way around the company via its 18-month training programme, learning how all the elements fit in to the contract catering jigsaw puzzle.
She has just completed the first stage, working in operations as assistant conference manager at World Bank, Linklaters. "I've really enjoyed it," she says. "This is very different from working in restaurants and hotels. It's more finance-orientated, which I haven't been exposed to before. There is also the relationship between contract caterer, the client and the customer to satisfy."
So far, the job means an 8am start, followed by the usual round of checking mail and e-mails. "I then meet up with the team and discuss big events for the day," she says.
Outside service hours, a typical day's workload is full and varied, including dealing with paperwork, suppliers and staff issues, and updating the internet site, plus coming up with new initiatives. The afternoon is a chance to catch up with managers from other departments and learn something about how they work.
"During service hours I check on the food quality before sending it off to the client. I'm in charge of making sure all lunches are served at the right time to the right rooms, and for customer relations," she says.
Although the job doesn't fit into a neat 9-5 category, there is no weekend work at present. "I'm a workaholic and I enjoy doing extra - there is always a lot to do. The hours are certainly not as long as hotel work."
Having just completed her first rotation, she is now based at head office. "My new job is to shadow an area manager who looks after 11 contracts in the London area," she explains.
"As I'm quite new to the business, I haven't had any bad experiences. The only thing I can think of that could be frustrating is if you can see a better way of doing something but a client decides it has to be run in a certain way - but, in the end, the client pays the bill."
* Try to work in several areas in contract catering if you get the chance, so that you can get an overview of the industry.
* Seek out a good recruitment consultancy. Chess Partnership were really helpful and they were honest.