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Hospitality: Innate? Cultural? Universal?

I’ve spent a lot of time in London recently, presenting at trade shows, delivering workshops and consulting for a small chain of boutique hotels. London’s not my home turf, but I love spending time in the big smoke, checking out all the latest eating and drinking eateries and trends. But there’s a place I look forward to going back to time and time again. It’s a small, funky café in Camden which does a few things amazing well – silky, smooth coffee and irresistible homemade cakes.

I walk in at the end of a long day, already salivating at the thought of the treats that lay ahead.

“Oh, I’m so hot, my back’s killing me and I can’t wait to go home”.

I hadn’t even opened my mouth and this is what I was greeted with. I felt as welcome as a scraggly hair in a bacon roll. Experience ruined. Utter deflation. Any anticipation knocked on the head. I muttered my order then slinked off into a corner. The server had cheered up a little by the time she came over with my coffee and cake, but it was too late.

For me, as I imagine for most people, going out to eat isn’t simply about the food and drink. I want an experience – I want to feel welcome, looked after. I want to sit in interesting surroundings and feel the warmth of the atmosphere and a sense of belonging even though I know no-one. Even going to grab a quick takeaway cuppa can be made enjoyable by a bit of banter with the staff.

I don’t think this is too much to ask, and I would expect to be treated courteously and professionally no-matter where in the world I was going out to eat.

Yet the rudeness of waiters in Paris is legendary. Indeed, it was with some mirth when earlier this week I read about the waiter who was fired from a restaurant in Vancouver for being “aggressive, rude and disrespectful”. His excuse? His behaviour wasn’t out of line – he’s just French. How can being treated rudely elevate any experience? It can’t. I understand that some nationalities – I’m thinking German, South African and indeed French –  have a tendency to be more direct and I can accept that. But I’m struggling to think of any culture which promotes or tolerates out and out rudeness.

I bang on about recruiting on personality rather than experience. You can teach skills but you can’t teach that magic, innate sense of hospitality. For me, you either have it or you don’t. Almost equally annoying as a lack of hospitality is taught, unnatural hospitality with a fake smile and forced, painful conversation.

A genuine welcome, appropriate interaction, great chat if I’m up for it and being left alone when I’m not are all crucial ingredients of true hospitality. So, the next time you ever feel like complaining to a customer, suck it up buttercup and simply give a heartfelt “hello”.

Even if you don’t have an innate sense of hospitality, surely you can’t get that wrong!


Victus Consultancy helps catering and hospitality businesseses achieve their potential. We guide, advise and support new, budding and more experienced business owners with all elements of your business, such as staff training & development, food and beverage consultation and allergens.

Victus also has a great reputation as a speaker, presenter and compere at industry events and conferences.

Give us a buzz on 07732 454639 for a quick chat and we can take it from there!

The perfect hotel breakfast

As a catering and hospitality consultant, and in my different roles as a food and beverage advisor, I help companies ranging from small B&Bs to huge university campuses nail their menus. For some reason, getting the breakfast offering can prove tricky, and I’m currently working with several hotels to reimagine and refine theirs.

So, what makes the perfect hotel breakfast?

I know what mine is – a huge fry up, a mound of toast and a steaming mug of good old English tea. I am a growing boy after all.

For leisure guests, breakfast might be the highlight of their stay. Usually accustomed to a quick bowl of cereal or slice of toast, they savour the prospect of being able to sit down and enjoy a more relaxed breakfast, with plenty of choice. I’ve visited 5* resorts where chefs carve slices from fresh salmon, make stacks of pancakes to your exact specifications and serve up breakfasts from around the world. No guest at a smaller, family run hotel would expect such a lavish offering, but they would like to choose between their usual Cornflakes and toast or the treat of a full English. With a bit more effort but no extra cost, allow guests to choose how they’d like their eggs cooked.

Both business guests and tourists love sampling local produce, so make the most of yours. In Scotland they can try haggis and black pudding, then give soda farls and potato bread a go in Northern Ireland. Warm English muffins are the ultimate comfort food, and how about some Penclawdd cockles and laverbread cake when in Wales? Award-winning sausages and bacon are always an attractive proposition, and much can be made of the provenance of local jams, breads, eggs and sauces.

By including local produce on your menu, you’re also demonstrating your environmental and ethical awareness. Buying from local producers and suppliers means you’re cutting down on those all-important food miles and supporting your local economy.

While most guests focus on the food offering, drinks are just as important, so ensure you offer a great range of hot and cold options. Delicious fruit juices always go down a treat, and a variety of teas is just as appealing as different styles of coffee. Decaffeinated options are a must, and don’t overlook a simple jug of fresh water with lemon.

Make sure all dietary requirements are catered for. There are now plenty of tasty vegetarian and vegan options so no excuses there! And rather than simply complying with allergen legislation, go above and beyond for your guests with food allergies and intolerances. Offer a range of lactose-free milks, such as soy, almond and rice, and who would guess that waffles with raspberry lemon syrup, creamy banana porridge, and, hash browns with Gruyère & pancetta are all gluten free!

In reality, there is no perfect hotel breakfast. So as long as you design your menu with your guests’ expectations and requirements in mind and use good quality local ingredients, you really can’t go wrong.

Victus Consultancy can help you perfect your food & beverage offering. Please call us on 07732 454 639 or email andrew@victusconsultancy.co.uk for more information.

Are we a foodie nation?

Michelin-starred and celebrated chef Angela Hartnett recently claimed that Britain still lacks a genuine food culture, and that we’re still nowhere near being a foodie nation.

She adds that eating well in the UK is all about money, that we don’t make time to shop, cook or eat and we lack respect for food.

Is she right?

I used to live and work in Toulouse, the fourth largest city in arguably the culinary capital of the world, France. I was a chef in some incredible restaurants, where staff and customers alike shared a love of well-prepared, beautiful presented, delicious food. So far, so similar to any good restaurant in the UK. It’s outside the restaurant environment that the different attitude to food is so noticeable.

Take a look at your typical French town. As independently owned butchers, cheesemakers and bakeries disappear from the UK’s high streets, they are still prominent in even the smallest towns in France. And they’re filled with people – average people, not well-heeled foodies – asking about the best cuts, trying new delicacies and being advised how best to serve their cakes. The same people support their twice-weekly local markets, which are an integral part of life and no big deal. These same markets would be promoted as “Artisan Farmers’ Markets” here in the UK, with people coming far and wide to buy overpriced pies, pulled pork and pastries. Locally sourced, organic produce is more affordable in France, and furthermore, it’s expected. Sub-standard doesn’t cut it! The care, attention and respect shown for food is astounding.

I used to spend time with a fellow chef in the small village where he lived. He was appalled by the Brits’ attitude to food, calling what he saw them eat as “just grub to fill their stomachs rather than food to be savoured and enjoyed”. He told me that when the one and only hotel in his village changed their lunchtime offering to more of a fast food, self-service affair, there was an outcry, especially from the workmen who relished their 2-hour lunch break, relaxing over a 3-course lunch washed down with local wine. No £3.95 lunch deal for them. “A la poubelle” they would probably scoff!

Eating at your desk in France is a distinct no-no. A proper lunch with colleagues is the norm, and a key part of workplace socialising. Both the mental and physical health benefits of eating a proper meal away from your desk are well documented, but are simply not part of British culture.

The French don’t eat much less than us, and their diet is famously rich in butter, sugar and fat. But they eat in a more respectful, healthy way. They don’t snack – there’s no need to when you’ve eaten a hearty lunch or dinner, and they certainly don’t eat in the street. Restaurants close at 2pm, and it can be almost impossible to find a casual eatery after this time apart from in the biggest cities. No mid-afternoon coffee and cake for them!

This is not a specialist patisserie – just a chain store in a French shopping centre!

So are things at least improving in the UK? Images of parents handing their children chips through the school gates after the implementation of healthy eating policies are sadly still recent, but the artisan food movement has taken hold in the UK, and we’re celebrating chefs and great cooking more than ever. Some of our produce is world famous – I’m thinking great exports like Scottish salmon, whisky, gin and Welsh lamb, and we have a lot to be proud of.

We in the hospitality and catering world can help facilitate change by using local products wherever possible, and shouting about it. Let’s not be embarrassed to charge fair prices for home produced dishes and let’s be proud of the provenance of our food. Let’s make every eating experience as enjoyable as possible by using the best quality ingredients, being creative and providing fantastic customer service.

But I feel it will take a few generations for the population as a whole to care more about food, and, sadly, I’m not sure that a genuine food culture will ever be part of our national psyche.

 

Victus is available to talk about key industry topics or lead panel discussions and debates at industry events and conferences. Please call us on 07732 454 639 or email andrew@victusconsultancy.co.uk for more information.

 

 

 

When is a plate not a plate?

A few days ago a restaurant in Birmingham was fined £50,000 for serving food on wooden boards.

Now, before you all start panicking and hiding any wooden serving dishes you may have, these particular ones had been linked to an alleged food poisoning outbreak. An inspection and hygiene improvement notice followed, but two months later the restaurant was still using the damaged, “incapable of being cleaned” boards.

Many eateries are finding unusual, novel ways to serve food, but aside from health and hygiene concerns, are the days of “plates not plates” over? Tennis rackets, trowels, mini shopping trolleys, even flat caps and slippers have all been derided in a backlash to this trend of curtailing crockery. Articles like “29 Hilariously Stupid Things Restaurants have Used In Place of Plates” and a Twitter account which declares “WeWantPlate” are dedicated to deriding the trend.

In my opinion, it’s vital to recognise that there’s a time and place for serving up dishes on unusual tableware. A selection of cheese and meats with chunks of bread can be beautifully presented on a (hygenic) rustic wooden or slate board. A full breakfast served on a spade, however? Most of us would conjure up images of mud and dirt, enough to put even the most strong-stomached off our food.

Unless it’s something that is wonderful and fits with the occasion or environment, I can’t remember any of the plates or dishes my meals have been served on. As a foodie, I focus on the main event, and don’t want any distractions. There’s nothing wrong with clean, white crockery and silver cutlery – as long as there are no off-putting chips or marks.

But if you have a funky restaurant, then funky dishes and glassware would be expected. Your tableware should be determined by your business. There has been some resurgence in vintage style glassware and tableware, and this certainly works well in establishments with a distinct historical feel. The increasing demand by health-conscious guests for smaller portions has meant a rise in providing smaller plates, and high-end eateries should never abandon crystal glasses. But I’d suggest that the most F&B managers should focus on tableware which is:

  • Good quality
  • Durable – and it’s worth spending extra for longevity
  • Easy to clean
  • Easy to store
  • Shock proof
  • Under warranty

That’s not to say you can’t have some fun. Brightly coloured tea pots always look great, and if you’re a themed restaurant, then you need to play to and enhance that theme. Napkins and flowers add flourish and flair and can reflect the tone of your eatery, the season and your brand.

Most importantly though, first impressions count; so ensure all service staff know how to set a table to make it look as attractive as possible, regardless of whether your tableware reflects the latest trends, is simple and classy or traditional.

And, for goodness sake, make sure whatever you’re serving your food on has been cleaned properly!

What we’re up to in 2018

With a mix of consultancy work for single and multi-site catering and hospitality companies, compering industry expos, presenting at awards ceremonies, facilitating discussion panels, keynote speaking engagements and the tremendously difficult task of judging some of the best food and drink in the UK, 2018 is shaping up to be a busy year.

We still do have availability, so please give us a buzz on 07732 454 639 for a no-strings chat.

Victus: The highs and lows of 2017

When your lowest point is being in tears because you’re knackered from too much work and you’re overawed by the most incredible landscape you’ve ever seen, you know you’re having a good year.

That was back in May on a particularly challenging section of the Great Wall of China. I had joined a group of fellow hospitality professionals to walk the wall to fundraise for HIT Scotland and there’d be lots of laughter, fun, japes, the odd crisis or two and plenty of mutual support. But having pushed myself to the limit battling over a crumbling, overgrown, scarily steep path, I sat down, looked around me and felt utterly overwhelmed.

I’d started the year with an empty diary. Yup, page after page of blank nothingness. It was terrifying. But the gloom quickly lifted. I won the tender for a huge, country-wide consultancy project which allowed me the huge privilege of visiting some of the most beautiful properties in the land. The project grew arms and legs and tails and everything else, and at one point I thought I wouldn’t even make it to China, but make it I did and wow! What an incredible experience and an absolute highlight of the year.

Back to reality in old Blighty and Victus took a surprising turn. All of a sudden I was in demand as a speaker, presenter, compere and judge. I hosted the main stage and panel discussions at many of the big trade shows in Excel, SECC and NEC as well as at university conferences and internally for hotels and hospitality organisations. Judging some of the best food in the country was hard but someone had to… nah, I won’t even pretend that it was nothing but an absolute pleasure.

STV got in touch – could I present the meals for under a tenner slot on their “Live at 5” show? Of course I could, and I did, soon becoming a regular guest presenter.

The year got busier and busier, and it looked like presenting at live events would become Victus’ main focus. We started thinking about changing what we’re all about, changing our website, changing our message, then suddenly the consultancy work was in full flow again, working in rural and urban locations for both single and multi-site companies.

A slight identity crisis followed, but we quickly recovered as we realised Victus has always remained true to itself. We are still fulfilling our original vision of helping hospitality businesses be the very best they can be, and to be ambassadors for the hospitality and catering industry. So whether that’s supporting a countryside restaurant get back on track, facilitating discussion about key issues in our industry, delivering a motivational speech to aspiring hospitality students or hosting an industry event, we’re well and truly on track.

Merry Christmas, thank you as always for your support, and onwards and upwards into 2018.

Victus is now accepting 2018 consultancy projects, as well as speaking, presenting and judging work. Please call 07732 454 639 for a chat and we can take it from there.

Top 10 tips to getting the most out of your people

I know, I know… I talk and blog about people a lot. But then I like people a lot. I like working with them, training them, mentoring them, learning from them and getting the very best out of them.

I’ve employed many people over the years – from front of house staff and chefs to kitchen porters and operation managers, baristas and book-keepers to marketing managers and office executives. I’ve made mistakes and have often had to learn the hard way, but I’ve emerged, older and wiser, with a fantastic team around me.

Here are my 10 ten tips on getting the very best from your people.

1. Recruit wisely
The key to creating a great team is to employ the right people in the first place. Choose personality, passion and enthusiasm then develop skills. Trust your instinct – you’ll know if a candidate is the right fit for your business and will take their role and responsibilities seriously.

2. Trust & believe
You’ve found the right people, now believe in them. Give them the right skills and tools to do their job, then ensure they have the right level of responsibility and accountability as well as the confidence to make decisions.

3. Train & develop
Training is a continuous process which should never stop. Ambition needs to be recognised and rewarded, skill gaps need to be filled, new products emerge, legislation changes and your business itself always evolves. Keep your people engaged and at the top of their game.

4. Offer continuous support
Give your employees guidelines to work to with flexibility and freedom to be creative. “I loved reading the company manual, especially section 1.2.5 on page 437” said no-one ever, so be realistic. Everyone has their strengths and weaknesses – work to their strengths and understand that some weaknesses are allowable.

5. Define goals
If your team knows the plan then it should be plain sailing as there will be no nasty surprises. Set the goals and stick to them. This allows staff to see exactly where they will fit in and understand exactly what is required of them.

6. Show respect
Lead by example, be courteous and remember it’s not just what you say but the way that you say it that’s so important. As employer you automatically have the upper hand ~ don’t take advantage of this and be aware and considerate of your staff’s sensitivities. Recognise that everyone learns and progresses differently and at a different speed, and accommodate these different needs.

7. Provide feedback
People love feedback so that they can improve, change or tweak their work style to ensure the company goals are being met. Feedback can be as simple as a quick chat over coffee or can be much more formal, in appraisal form behind closed doors. Formal feedback should be recorded, tracked and used again at future meetings. Nipping small issues in the bud means they do not grow into larger, unmanageable issues whereas formal feedback supports development and encourages loyalty.

8. Encourage awesomeness
When all the team are signing from the same hymn sheet, if one of the team is having an off day then the rest of the troops can rally round and bring that team member back up again. Work is a place where we spend the majority of our time, and we have to enjoy it, feel valued and want to be part of it. Awesomeness breeds awesomeness – high high can your people go?

9. Open communications
Honesty is the number one facto here. Encourage questions and open communication. Speaking to each other and aiding each other gets the job done. Lose the gossip culture. Dissuade negativity. Be direct but kind. Encourage ideas but remember that no idea is a bad idea.

10. Catch people doing the right thing
We always expect to be pulled up for doing something wrong, so being praised for doing a great job or going the extra mile can be the greatest feeling in the world. Don’t hold back – let your people know they’re doing a great job!

Victus Consultancy are experts in training, coaching and mentoring new recruits as well as established members of staff.

Please call us on 07732 454639 for an informal, no commitment chat.

Front of house = the face of your business!

Your front of house team is one of the first opportunities you have to make a good first impression on your customers. Whether they’re the only person working in your small, family-run tea room or one of a huge reception team, they are the face of your company and should project what you’re all about, how much you care and how good you are. They are a reflection of your business, your brand…and of you! Recruit carefully and wisely to create a front of house team which is welcoming, engaging and informative.

Charm and friendliness coupled with an innate sense of service cannot be taught or trained. Look out for these traits at interview, and dig deep when asking candidates about excellence in customer service. Relevant past experience is all well and good, but I go for a warm, winning smile and sunny demeanour over a so-so character with more experience every time. That said, ensure your preferred candidate has a bit of common sense, good numeracy and literacy skills, and is tech savvy in our increasingly tech dependant world. Staff are required to operate on-line booking systems, deal with requests on social media and pull reports from tills so you need to be confident that they’re trainable and can carry out these tasks effectively and efficiently.

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As well as engaging with your customers, your front of house team needs to be able to engage with one another. After all, no customer wants to see the bickering and arguing that airline cabin crews can renowned for. When recruiting, think about how the candidate will gel with the rest of your team. Would they fit in culturally? Are they a big personality who may conflict with another strong character? Would their particular skills complement existing skills within your team or, conversely, would their shortfalls only add to your woes?

Once you find a good ‘un, make sure you keep ’em! Get to know your new recruits, notice their particular skill set, and recognise vision and ambition. Keep staff morale high and turnover low by introducing an engaging induction plan which introduces new staff to all other members of your team and different parts of your business. Design a training and development programme, which sounds expensive and scary but can be easily implemented by involving your suppliers, taking advantage of free on-line programmes and looking out for scholarship and work experience opportunities.

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As manager or business owner, carry out spot checks on your team, or organise a Mystery Shopper who can provide a fresh, objective pair of eyes. With vast experience at many other hotels, bars and restaurants, they’re in the perfect position to benchmark your business and put your front of house team to the test.

So, how would your team fare? If average, make them good. If good, make them great!

Victus Consultancy can help small, independent catering and hospitality businesses achieve their potential. We guide, advise and support new, budding and more experienced business owners with all elements of your business, such as staff training & development as well as menu offering and pricing, licensingallergens,  and compliance. Give us a buzz on 07732 454 639for a quick chat and we can take it from there!

EU hospitality workers – how would we fill the gap?

As Brexit negotiations continue, throw up controversy and falter, the British Hospitality Association has once again stated that hotels and restaurants could go out of business if staff from EU countries are forced to leave the country.

Dire warnings include the industry losing up to 60,000 staff a year, only 1 in 50 applicants for jobs in well-known coffee shop chains being British, and hospitality businesses needing up to 10 years to replace EU staff. And worryingly, hospitality businesses already have more job vacancies than any other sector in the UK.

How has it come to this?

Go to Spain and watch a waiter at work. He owns the floor. He takes orders, doesn’t have to write anything down and brings the right food to the right person first time. Sit in a coffee bar in Italy. The barista loves her work – she is cool, she knows all her customers by name and she makes the meanest coffee you ever tasted. Then have a meal in a Greek taverna, where the family runs the place like clockwork.

In these countries, like many others, hospitality is a serious career choice – jobs are valued, sought after and respected, and the staff take great pride in their work. A hospitality and/or catering qualification is usually mandatory, employees are contracted and it is often a career for life. In Britain, conversely, where employment laws are much more flexible, hospitality is often seen as casual work –  great as a part-time option for young people at school or in further education, but not much beyond that. This can lead to a disinterested, disaffected level of service, which in turn discredits the industry.

Admittedly, a job in hospitality involves serious graft. Workers spend many hours on their feet, deal with demanding customers, and in our increasingly fast-paced work, the pressure to provide a quick yet efficient service can be exhausting.

So, how can we make hospitality a more attractive proposition?

  • Proper contracts: Too many hospitality staff are on controversial zero hours contracts, so more secure employment which offers paid holidays, sickness leave and other benefits would be great start. New employees immediately feel well looked after and appreciated
  • Training: Never underestimate the power of a personalised induction programme and ongoing training and development. With imagination and creativity it needn’t cost the earth, and instead will reduce staff turnover which always helps with profit
  • Skills: Hospitality workers can often be regarded as unskilled. In fact, employees such as chefs are highly skilled and many others require a huge dedication to quality and service, and a fierce work ethic. Give staff skills and they immediately feel more valuable and indispensable, and this is the image they will project onto customers, raising the profile of the industry
  • Widen your employee pool: Consider employing older and disabled people, who have historically struggled to find work and who may stay with you longer than younger people
  • Culture: It’s unrealistic to think that we can change a whole nation’s attitude towards an industry, but as business owners we can create a wonderful culture which staff want to buy into and commit to. A culture where each and every employee is cherished and looked after, and which is tangible to our customers

I love this industry. I’m passionate about it. I eat, sleep and breathe it. I’m proud to say I’ve worked in it my whole life, and have no intention of changing that. Let’s instil this mentality into up-and-coming talent to secure a fantastic future for us all.

 

Victus Consultancy is passionate about recruiting, training & developing catering and hospitality industry teams to promote and raise the profile of the hospitality and catering industry. Contact us if you’d like an industry expert to help you attract, retain, coach and mentor the very best people for the benefit of both your business and your customers.

Catering for the FreeFrom market

The term “FreeFrom” has recently evolved from simply describing food which is suitable for people with allergies. It’s increasingly being used as a buzzword to let those with health, lifestyle and ethical concerns make an informed decision about what they do and do not eat. As hospitality professionals, it’s our job to ensure that we fully commit to catering for customers with a FreeFrom diet, whether due a medical condition or lifestyle choice. And I’m not just talking about following legislation and staying on the right side of the law, I mean really taking the time and effort to create imaginative, mouth-watering dishes that all customers can happily tuck into.

According to Allergy UK, around 45% per of the population of the UK has a food allergy or intolerance. For the people affected this is an inconvenience at best and life threatening at worse. Additionally, there are now over 500,000 vegans in the country, an enormous 360% increase in the past ten years. These statistics, along with the increasing number of people opting for healthier eating, passionate about the environment and concerned about ethical issues, creates a wonderful opportunity for us as caterers to reimagine our menus to increase the amount of multi-allergen-free dishes on offer.

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This needn’t be as difficult as you may think. There are now many appealing gluten-free, diary-free and egg-free cakes available. Similarly, a typical lunch-time offering of soup, sandwiches and baked potatoes can be expanded to include flat bread, savoury tarts and pitta bread with exciting fillings such as gluten and dairy free mango chicken or goats cheese with a locally sourced chutney. Indeed, using suppliers from your community and wider region is a great way to support other SMEs, create a story around local specialities and cut down on food miles. In the long run, this approach may also help with Brexit-induced rising costs of imported ingredients. It also presents a fantastic opportunity to rely more heavily on seasonal and even organic produce.

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However, understanding allergens can be a minefield. What’s the difference between dairy-free and lactose-free? How can you avoid cross-contamination in a small kitchen? What are the best options for a customer who requires a gluten and dairy free meal which is also halal? There’s a wealth of information on-line such as the Food Standards Agency  and Allergy UK. You could join social media groups dedicated to people with allergens which helps you understand their complex dietary requirements, frustrations, requirements and recommendations. Follow bloggers like the Intolerant Gourmant and consider bringing in a consultant who knows their stuff.

And it’s not just food, you also need to consider drinks. The hot drinks market is expanding all the time as the variety of coffees and speciality teas continues to grow. Caterers need to ensure the types of milk we’re offering also increases, with people on a health kick looking for non-fat or low-fat options, and lactose-intolerant customers requiring soy, rice or almond varieties.

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The key is to cater for everyone. Eating is one of life’s joys, and it should be as pleasurable and stress-free an experience as possible for everyone, regardless of special dietary requirements.

Contact Victus today to discuss how we can help you with allergen legislation. As food and beverage specialists, we can also help you source great ingredients and products to create delicious FreeFrom dishes to ensure a great dining experience for ALL your customers!