How did Saffron Catering begin? Were you working in the food industry before you set up the business?

Saffron’s beginnings came from our MD’s owning a small restaurant in the village of Appleby Magna, which is where we are located. We started to cater for a local business who required lunches for 5 covers each week.  From there, it planted a seed that outside catering could potentially be another arm to the restaurant, and we started to create a brand and marketing materials. We came up with the name Saffron as it is an unusual spice, adding colour and flavour to any food.  At this point it was only one of our MD’s who was going ahead with the idea, as the main focus was the restaurant, so very much a lone sailor in the early days!  Over the course of a few months, regular corporate lunches were catered for and we received our first request for a small wedding, based locally.  Our first wedding was a big success, we received so many fantastic comments and it basically gave us the appetite to continue and grow the idea.  

We started to set up our admin processes and used the upstairs area of our restaurant as a base for the outside catering.  Within the space of a year, our clientele quickly increased and we outgrew that space, realising the potential of what we were doing.  We rented a unit space a couple of miles from the restaurant which at the time we thought was so big we would never fill it!  Within another 12 months, we had a team in place, bookings were coming in left, right and centre and we’d made the decision to leave the restaurant and focus all energies on Saffron full time.  The team then found our current unit which has since been expanded to add on 4 other units and 8 years on from our first wedding, we are now one of the leading caterers in the Midlands, catering for around 400 corporate lunches per week, over 100 weddings and 70 private events per year!

Congratulations on winning the East Midlands Wedding Caterer of the Year award at The 2018 Wedding Industry Awards! What was the ceremony like?

Brilliant!  We had entered the Wedding Industry Awards the previous year and were shortlisted as finalists so we were fortunate enough to attend last year, but this year was slightly different as it was a bigger shortlist of finalists.  The Awards are a fantastic opportunity to network with other businesses offering the same as we do. It never feels awkward; we always say healthy competition is a good thing so always make a point of chatting with other caterers in our area to build those relationships. 

How did it feel to win?

To say we were shocked is an understatement!  We had a few key members of our team with us on the night itself, but you can see the surprise on all of our faces when Saffron Catering was announced as the 2018 winners!  All of our team work so hard to deliver every single day, so the award was received on behalf of every single member of our team and we are so thankful to be recognised with such a fantastic accolade!

What sustainability practices does your business employ?

All our food waste is recycled. We have an off-grid water supply system so we are very conscious about how much water we use. Our cups and trays are also recyclable. It’s part of our ethos to always look to create the minimum of waste, which often cuts our costs too.

You provide a huge variety of menu options. How do you ensure the service and food you provide is of the very best quality?

We pride ourselves on going over and above for every client, exceeding expectations and ensuring we always deliver not only the best possible service, but the best possible quality on food too.We tailor our menus to the current trends and most popular options, and we try and stay ahead of the game in offering new concepts and ideas.Quality is not something we ever scrimp on, we pride ourselves in using local suppliers wherever possible and delivering fresh and vibrant foods.

How do you source and retain staff for your events?

We work hard on building our team throughout the year, planning ahead for the seasons. For example, we start to recruit for the Christmas period in September, and then again for the summer period in January.  Planning head is essential for staffing. We have a bank of around 40 casual staff which we call on for each period, and then supplement that with agency staff for the larger events and busier days.  It is great to see that we have staff who have been with us since Day 1, and we do as much as we can to keep staff morale high.

What sustainable practices do you employ?

We pride ourselves on reducing our carbon footprint as we do recognise the importance of sustainability in today’s world. Particularly within our kitchen team, we use any leftover food in stocks for example, to reduce wastage and costs, and any appropriate food waste is turned into compost and used in our herb garden.  We are keen recyclers and re-use all plastics, cardboard and glass, for example using wooden boxes to transport fruit and vegetables to our clients.  We use Fairtrade and Organic products and produce. We have a great relationship with local suppliers who offer these, and by using better quality products, our clients will only get the best from Saffron.  We have recently introduced an ‘Energy Champion’ at our HQ whose responsibility it is to manage what we have implemented and promote it as much as possible with all staff, both full time and casual. Any new venue will benefit from this role to reduce our impact on the Environment.

Photos on your website of the weddings you’ve worked at look incredible! What has been your team’s favourite event to cater for so far?

Each wedding and event is different, but one which sticks in our minds is a corporate event we did for Price Waterhouse Coopers last summer which was Alice in Wonderland themed.  We created a range of bespoke arrival cocktails, all marked up with little flags saying ‘Drink Me’, which accompanied arrival canapes of mini candy floss and swirled lollipops.  We had laid up with gingham table runners which added to the cardboard cut-out characters from Alice in Wonderland and giant playing cards which adorned the bar area too.  The main meal was 3 courses, starting with our Deconstructed Bruschetta, served in vintage tea-cups which looked brilliant to welcome the guests to their tables. The main course was a sharing ‘Hot Pot’ of Lamb Stew with delicious seasonable vegetables and Pomme Puree.  To finish, we had a mini Afternoon Tea style cake array, including Queen of Hearts Jam Tarts, Macarons and the like, all topped with ‘Eat Me’ flags and mini playing cards!  The effect was fantastic, a brilliant array of colours, surprises and of course, delicious food!

What advice would you give to a start-up looking to cater for events?

Our advice would be, follow your dreams. Saffron started from a very little seed and quickly developed into an oak tree, and it is only by having that vision to grow into something great that has made us who we are today.  We couldn’t be prouder of what we have achieved today; we have a fantastic team around us and without them we couldn’t do what we do, so we’re very grateful for that. 

How has your NCASS membership helped your business?

NCASS has some fantastic products available for businesses. For us, the online catering courses have allowed us to develop and train our staff effectively and ensure they are fully prepared in the workplace.  Being a member of NCASS allows us access to the tools we need to ensure we are following correct procedure for anything law abiding too, and this is of the utmost importance to any business.