We speak to Smart group about all things events, catering and re-opening plans!

We speak to Smart group about all things events, catering and re-opening plans!

Miss London Concierge caught up with our fabulous friends at Smart Group to talk all things events and re-opening plans and this was honestly such an uplifting interview from start to finish.

Having known both Chloe (Moving Venue) and Lily (Smart Group) for the past two years, it was such a delight to chat to them and get their insight on navigating the new normal in events.  Their passion for their roles and the people they work with is inspiring, which you will be able to see for yourself in the below.   If you have been lucky enough to work with either Lily or Chloe in the past, you will know exactly how infectious their personalities are and how easy they are to work with.

This interview will give you just a flavour of how creative their events and catering teams can be, and we cannot wait to be back working with them again as soon as we can.

1. Tell us a little bit about yourselves, your roles within the business and how long you have worked for Smart Group?

Lily:  I have worked with Smart Group for four years and my title is Head of Agency and Venue Sales so I look after two projects, firstly the agency project which a huge thing for us here at Smart, ensuring that we keep in touch with our key agents and develop new relationships with other agents.  On the other side of things, we have the seasonal venue project, so we have the summer portfolio and the winter portfolio and I look after our sales teams for those two projects.

Chloe:  I have been with the group for five and a half years and I am the deputy MD of the Catering Division Moving Venue which is our bespoke event caterer across many Unique Venues of London,  and Smart Hospitality who are our in house caterer at Evolution London as well as our sporting and large scale event caterer.  

2. What do you love most about your role?

Lily: I love that it’s so people centric, and how much my role orientates around building relationships with likeminded individuals. This is one if the nicest things about our industry, everyone is so likeminded, a lot of people are on the same page which always makes for interesting conversations. The fact that my job is to essentially build relationships with these great people whom many have become good friends and not just a client is the best thing about the role.

 I love the freedom we have in all our roles and Smart really give you that empowerment to grow and make yourself into what you want to be.  You define your own success and it’s great to work for a company that allows the role to have the flexibility and growth beyond what the title may be.

Chloe: Well obviously I love food and that’s a key part of what I do but like Lily said, with Smart what we have managed to do is bring together different brands that are all linked together as one group but that also all have their own identities. We have such an amazing group of people which is why many of us have found lockdown so difficult. We are such a social group and so much of what is important to us about our roles is friendship and our relationships with our colleagues. 

So yes, people and food are what I love most.

Moving Venue catering

3. How many venues do you have in your portfolio?  

Lily: Its slightly complicated here at Smart and that’s why it works for Chloe and us to deliver this interview together because it is intrinsically linked, so I will just talk about the Seasonal venue’s portfolio. 

On the seasonal side we have 12 venues in our Christmas Portfolio and that ranges from anything from 10 people which would be booking as a shared party night, to hiring our flagship venue exclusively for a 4,000-person party.

In the summer we have two venues which are Inner Temple and Magazine London and then year-round we have Here East and Battersea Evolution London. Some of them fall in to two different categories but those are the three prongs of the venues department.

Chloe:  Moving Venue are accredited at over 50 venues in London and also have our exclusive portfolio of venues which include Landing Forty-Two , Magazine London and Illuminate at the Science Museum, which we cater for year-round.   The design and size of these three venues means that when they can re-open post lockdown, they will be able to accommodate things like product launches, conferences and larger dinners while still adhering to social distancing rules.

4. Are you quite selective with the venues that you work with?

Lily:  On the venues side we have rapidly expanded in the last 5 years.  The vision and the plan now, which was in place prior to Covid is to settle and really champion what we have in our portfolio.

Chloe: To reiterate what Lily said, the last 18 months have been key for us in focusing on consolidating rather than expanding our business, to ensure we are focusing and looking after the venues and potential business we receive.

5. Do you have a favourite venue or space?

Lily: My favourite venue is Freemasons Grand Temple. I’ve been involved in Christmas installs since I started out in my career and for me, not only is the venue beautiful, but our concept there is so unique and creative, in the way that we go about making it into a party venue for what is normally completely not what you think a party venue would be. It’s a masonic temple! It is a challenging transition but something really special.

Chloe:  I would say probably Magazine London because it’s a great addition to the exclusive portfolio. It’s shown in such a short space of time (which is why Covid is so devastating) the variety of the events that can take place there is so diverse.  It’s so big and there is so much you can do there that I just love it.  I think it’s really diverse and if you had told people 3 years ago, that there was a new venue opening in Greenwich Peninsula, people would have wondered what you were talking about 😊  The fact that its managed to drive so many people there so quickly is a real testament to the sales and catering teams on site.

6. Tell us about the types of events that you host at your variety of venues?

Lily: If we focus in on Battersea Evolution, we really do accommodate anything and everything which makes it such a great space to work in.  Without wanting to use the word blank canvas, you can’t really get away from the fact that it is a blank canvas space.  We have hosted weddings, car shows, gala dinners (which are our bread and butter) and catering focused events are what we would always aim to do. We are extremely fortunate that we have a huge variety and it keeps everyone pretty fresh and excited with different events.

Chloe:  Moving Venue can accommodate every type of event possible. Recently (pre-Covid -19) we saw a huge spike in the amount of conferences we catered for.  A few years ago, we were never really a conference caterer so that was great to see.  We are very known for being a dinner caterer on a large scale with museums and galleries being our speciality, but equally we are fully equipped to cater for receptions, BBQ’ s and any type of event you want really

7. Is there a standout event that you have organised and are really proud of?

Lily:  Our showcase back in 2016 that took place at Battersea Evolution and which was part of our relaunch blew me away.  That was when I was new to Smart Group and I thought to myself, ‘this sets the tone for the types of events that I’m going to be involved in’.  Just phenomenal. The design, the food, the guest list, it was just a really high-end special experience for everyone.

Chloe: That launch event was so different for Evolution because it was two long tables, which would not be the normal set up there. You would normally host an event there for 2,000 people but this was high end and really made everyone reassess the capabilities of the space.  It was incredibly special.

The event that I am most proud of took place when we first started working with the NSPCC. It was held at Old Billingsgate and what I love most about it is that they always seem to have a set theme.  The theme for this year was The Great British Bake Off, and the chefs just excelled with the food. The starter was smoked salmon and trout mousse, made to look like a Battenberg cake.  The dessert was almost like an entire pastry station design in one dessert.  When we organised the food tasting for this event, it’s the first time I had seen a standing ovation for the chef!

It was so rewarding to deliver such a great event for the NSPCC which is such a wonderful charity.

8. How have you been spending your time in lockdown?

Lily: Outside of work I have been embracing having a bit more time to do the things I already enjoy. I haven’t been someone that’s taken up new hobbies (although I think that’s brilliant that people have) but I’ve just been able to spend more time doing the things I love which is long bike rides, more exercise and having the time to do yoga.  Spending time with my family has been lovely. Its such a rare blessing to have this much time with your loved ones.

Chloe:  Initially as a busines we had an awful lot to do when the lock down started but I now have a new puppy which will force me to take more time for myself.  Normally I would get in from work at 8pm and we would cook dinner quickly but now I feel I have the time to be in the kitchen more, pour a glass of wine while cooking and chat to my husband whilst doing so . I’ve been making the most of that slower pace of life which has been so valuable. I have just been going for long walks and of course lots of Zoom quizzes!

9. The venues are currently closed, and events are on hold.  how have you stayed connected to your community, agents, and bookers?

Lily: From our side, we have sent newsletters to our clients but have been sensitive to the amount of bounce backs received with people on Furlough so had to take this into consideration when thinking about additional communication during this time.

Our message to the agencies is we are here, we are still working and preparing for the future. We are still planning for a Christmas with as much hope as you can at this point and we are here if you need us.

Chloe:  Social Media has been a wonderful way to keep in touch with people. Smart Group have been supporting Cook-19 which is our NHS initiative.  We have been really delighted to support this so that (although it’s not actively shouting about an event we are doing) has been lovely as a way of keeping people updated. 

10. Do you have a date you are planning to re-open at this stage?

Lily: From a venue side, Battersea Evolution is when we have the earliest events booked in the diary currently in the 2nd week of September.   If our clients want to go ahead, and the Government guidelines permit that then we will operate those events.

Our position is if we ensure a safe environment, (which is the same as it was prior to Covid-19, it’s just a new type of safety) we will host an event.  

Chloe:  Technically we can cater at any point for anyone.  We are getting more and more enquiries now from people that are having virtual conferences and are looking to have food delivered to them. We have now developed a range of delivery boxes with everything from afternoon tea, brunch, lunch and build your own canapés. The opportunities are endless!

Moving Venue delivery boxes

Through Cook-19 we have learnt a lot about how we can socially distance in the kitchen and develop our operations teams knowledge on how to make this work. We could cater next week if we needed to, we would just always ensure that we are following the current government guidelines.

11. What plans and safety measure are you putting in place for when your doors re-open?  

Lily: Until we are running an event, we will not put a formal Health & Safety plan together because it will need to be specific to that particular event.

Of course, there will be all the obvious safety measures of additional cleaning and hand sanitiser stations., specialist cleaning. Etc but the idea is that we offer a bespoke health and safety plan based on the event requirements, We had a lengthy discussion the other day about how you would do a bag check when guests do arrive so we are covering every base with prep work so we are as ready as we can be when it’s time to start organising events again.

Chloe: The guidelines are forever changing and therefore can potentially be problematic to start planning but we must start planning. From a catering side of things, it’s about establishing how we socially distance back of house and there is a lot of work being done to prepare for this.

12. Are you currently still receiving enquiries for 2020?

Lily: We are receiving maybe 1 or 2 enquiries a week and while more and more people are still furloughed, businesses are in a sort of protection mode which we very much understand.   We remain optimistic that the two trade show style events we still have in our diaries later this year might still take place.

Chloe:  We are receiving lots of wedding enquires for this year and 2021 which is great. A few people enquired for an event in July 2020 but we though that might have been a little too optimistic at this stage!

13. Are your venues fully equipped to host Virtual and Hybrid events?

Lily: Yes, from a venue side our best attributes and USP’s lend themselves to the AV potentials in the venues.  We fortunately have a very experienced and trusted AV partner, Hawthorn who work with us on most of our projects and installs.

Battersea Evolution is unrivalled in their delivery of AV focused events.  We have also put together introductory Hybrid events packages in a bronze, silver, and gold format, so people can pick the level they want to go for whether its just streaming, engagement coming back or live cameras etc.  Working so closely with Hawthorn for several years has allowed us to get ahead of the game because we work more as a partnership with them.

If our venues do not have the right bandwidth included in the venue hire to support a hybrid event, we are going to explore including complimentary in the venue hire

Chloe: All our venues and partners are equipped with in house AV.  Illuminate already had the capabilities and set up to live stream across both of their floors and spaces so we are confident on their capabilities to deliver a high-end virtual event.

14. Do you think event bookers will always prefer live events to virtual events or do you think virtual & hybrid events will become the new norm?

Lily: Live events will always prevail!

Chloe: There is a novelty to the virtual events trend now but food, drink and socialising face to face will always be so important.

I read an interesting article the other day that asked if we could stop calling it social distancing and start calling it physical distancing which I thought was a great way of looking at it.  

We cannot wait to welcome people back, ensure safe measures are in place and give guests the confidence to come to an event and experience the amazing atmosphere.  

International Travel & Tourism Awards 2019, Magazine London

15. What positive have you taken from lockdown and what advise would you give to others to try and stay positive during this time?

Lily: Everyone is in this together. We have had to have a few tough conversations with clients, but we have also had some really positive conversations and we want this to work out for everyone. Everyone is affected in some way and that is important to keep in mind when you are feeling low because we will all get through this. As humans we are resilient and there isn’t anything we haven’t overcome in the past. There is an end date to this.

Chloe: It’s made me realise that there is more to life than work, as wonderful as it is and as much as I love my job, it’s been so lovely to take that time and just enjoy life, family and friends.

There is nothing that a glass of wine and a good chat with your friend can’t solve really!

A catch up with a friend really can solve most problems!  Thank you so so much to Lily and Chloe for taking the time to speak with us.  We feel energised and inspired after hearing the great appreciation you have for your company, role and colleagues and here’s hoping you can open all of your doors again really soon.

If you would like to find out more about the Smart Group, their portfolio, or booking one of their venues for your next event, contact us today on info@misslondonconcierge.co.uk

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