Pearls of Wisdom: Alan Swinson

By Emma Eversham

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Hotel

Alan Swinson, catering director for Macdonald Hotels & Resorts
Alan Swinson, catering director for Macdonald Hotels & Resorts
Alan Swinson started his professional life as a chef more than 20 years ago and worked his way up through the ranks to become catering director Macdonalds Hotels & Resorts where he oversees Food & Beverage at 42 of the group's properties.

If you want to move up the ladder in the industry​ the most important thing is to surround yourself with supportive, hard-working people. A strong team is always essential.

Commitment and hard work are also key to your progress​. Never compromise and take advantage of all opportunities. All this and a pinch of good luck should do the trick.

There are many aspects of working in the kitchen that I greatly miss.

Twenty years ago hotel restaurants had less of a challenge keeping diners in because there was less high street competition. ​Today there is a huge standalone restaurant market, especially in city centres. As a hotel restaurant you must provide a flexible and varied food offering as, unlike a standalone restaurant, hoteliers are met with the challenge of producing different levels of catering for an ever-changing client base.

The market has definitely become a lot more competitive and standards are generally higher than they were, say, 10 years ago.​ You can’t afford to be second best anymore. We are living in a ‘budget generation’ where the consumer expects more for less. This is a difficult environment and if, like us, you need to show you are putting in more, you need to stand above the rest.

One of the proudest moments of my career so far is developing the provenance operation for Macdonald Hotels & Resorts ​(the group has become the first hotel group to join the RSPCA's Freedom Food approved scheme). I have enjoyed creating new partnerships and it’s very encouraging to see that we are continuing to attract interest from top industry professionals.

I think it's important to highlight food provenance on menus. ​The consumer has a greater awareness of what is being offered on a plate and has a right to know where their food has come from. It is our aim and our responsibility at Macdonald Hotels to make diners more aware of what they are eating.

The welfare of an animal greatly affects the end produce​. For example, if a pig is reared naturally and fed naturally allowing it to mature in a normal way, it will have more flavour. Ultimately, if we can source quality ingredients to help us serve quality food our reward is customer loyalty.

In 2010 we successfully grew our sleeper/diner percentage by 15 per cent, adding an additional 67,000 diners in a full year.​ This shows that if you do put a big focus on food quality and provenance within the collection it pays off.

It is much harder to source more sustainable food as a large company​ because it is harder to manage and create consistency. Trying to manage this over 42 hotels does becomes a challenge, however by maintaining strong partnerships with our suppliers we are able to overcome some of these challenges to help us through the process.

We've received numerous accolades for our chefs here​. Being recognised in the industry as a serious food and beverage hotel group has given us a huge boost.

I have been fortunate enough to work with a number of highly respected individuals during my career​, namely Lois Outier, Peter Kromberg, Jérôme Dutois and of course Mr Macdonald and David Guile whom I currently work with.

For 2012 I think the challenges I've already mentioned will continue and will become more challenging​. I think that because there is no evidence to tell us it will get any better. That said, it will be an interesting year with the arrival of the Games.

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