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#001 - Hospitality Meets Chris Fletcher - The Operations Director
Episode 115th April 2020 • Hospitality Meets... with Phil Street • Phil Street
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Hospitality Meets... with Phil Street is a new podcast for the hospitality industry.  Join Phil each week as he hosts a new guest in a light-hearted talk about their journey and story to date.

In this episode, Phil meets Chris Fletcher, MD of Askfletch.com, Co-founder of EXP101 (https://www.experience101.live/) as well as remaining on the board of Pieminister (https://pieminister.co.uk/).

Join us as we talk through Chris' journey to date as well as some of the work he's doing now.  There's some cracking stories in here told with passion and humour.

If you are interested in any of the work that Chris is doing (And there is a lot), you can reach out to him at chris@askfletch.com

This chat was recorded on February 20th 2020, before Covid-19 Lock Down procedures were put in place.



This podcast uses the following third-party services for analysis:

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Transcripts

Phil Street:

Welcome to hospitality meets with me Phil street where we take a light hearted look into the stories and individuals that make up the wonderful world of hospitality. Today's guest is the fantastic Chris Fletcher, Operations Director of Pie Minister, an all round hospitality champion. Coming up on today's show, Chris alienates his mum in one sentence

Chris Fletcher:

If someone tells you you can run your local pub and you'd take that over your mum's

Phil Street:

Phil confuses cool with boring.

Phil Street:

Cool for me know as as learning that there's cordless vacuum cleaners

Phil Street:

And Chris and Phil talk Scottish nutters

Chris Fletcher:

So my best friend from Hard Rock was Dave Pellow is also Scottish.

Phil Street:

Nutter?

Chris Fletcher:

Yeah, Nutter

Phil Street:

All that and a whole lot more as Chris talks us through His story and journey to date, a massive shout out to the landmark Hotel in London for giving us a quiet space for the chat. Enjoy.

Phil Street:

Hello, good afternoon, and welcome to hospitality meets with meet Phil Street, your host. And today I'm delighted to introduce Chris Fletcher, who is now 25 years in hospitality. Managing director asked Fletch on the exec board at pie minister. I always say Pie Minster. So I got that right for once. And also co founder of EXP101 or is it exp?

Chris Fletcher:

Experience one oh one experience one oh one, no one can spell it, which is the new voice for a new industry.

Phil Street:

I like the sound of that we'll come on to that later, Dad of three crazy Welsh kids living in the hills just outside of Cardiff, scouser on the red side. Of course, otherwise, we wouldn't have been able to have this conversation, loves family, food, sport, and walking the dog.

Chris Fletcher:

I'm a simple man.

Chris Fletcher:

Very good. Chris. Welcome.

Chris Fletcher:

Thank you.

Phil Street:

So thank you very much for joining us today. Maybe you could kick things off by giving us a grand overview of your career, your journey. How have you ended up where you are?

Chris Fletcher:

We need a long time. So yeah, I came from a background in hospitality. So my my nan, my dad's mum owned hotels across the Lake District, Scotland and Herefordshire. I come from a very wealthy middle class your man so spent a lot of time obviously just hanging out in there when I was a kid hanging out with chefs hanging out with the waitresses hanging out you know, spacey or they

Chris Fletcher:

five minutes of the road but if someone tells you you can run your local pub and live above it, then you're going to take that over your mum's it's been two years there I really just have it's the best job I've ever had. You know, no responsibility in my mind probably did have some but work for a really cool guy called Andy who was ex military really still really good friends and he told me

Phil Street:

I've never been to home but there's a reason why.

Chris Fletcher:

So sorry, people from Hull. But I was in hold for a bit in a place called the catch, which is a really cool pub is to have a master net used to press a button on a Saturday night and the master used to start swaying. And all these pirates used to start singing sea shanties. It was horrific. So kids wanted to press it every bloody five seconds. So if you weren't there, it wasn't

Phil Street:

I had this debate with somebody once Yeah, it's about it was as I always used to call it ask and then somebody came into the room and said, I went to an ASK restaurant. Sorry, what?

Chris Fletcher:

Well, we call it SK, Adam and Sam cake. That's what it stood for. So you know when we I started with Adam and Sam when they were there. So I was the first I think northern General Manager in their rollout so it was quite certain they just unless the I did Liverpool, which is where I'm from. Amazing, great fun. No structure out. They kind of they were kind of rolling out there

Chris Fletcher:

the roll up was slowing down in my area. And yeah, and I ended up meeting the Hard Rock Cafe, which was, I would say the biggest day of my career. So yeah, yeah, because I met a guy called come first and who is the VP of whatever Vice President of Operations for Europe sounds very grand title. Wow, Hard Rock was you know, it was I didn't I knew as a burger joint. I didn't know anything about it,

Chris Fletcher:

there and watched it and that's hospitality. Right? Yeah. What's the what's that and now he was like you think the chef is a Scottish guy from a who's the Hard Rock he's the Hard Rock GM in Madrid Coco George sharp and joy said to me wait here wait for this and then the next guy that came out was a Pink Floyd and it's the first time that uh, I think forget his name that's really bad. The

Phil Street:

Works really well with hospitality that doesn't it

Chris Fletcher:

Yeah, it does. And also I met my, I forgot I met my wife at hard rock. So Carrie, waitress hardrock in Cardiff, so which is my well my wife's connection

Phil Street:

That was nearly Yeah, Human League song then.

Chris Fletcher:

Yeah, they really matter as a burger flipper. Yeah. But yeah, so we ended up together obviously we had Shea a couple years later, and yeah, we decided that maybe my time for two in the morning getting hammered and flying literally world was over. Yeah. Which I kind of agreed with, you know, a huge responsibility change and also hate baseball caps and reason why he's a baby is to

Phil Street:

they're all they're all. It's a second time today. You've made a joke about your appearance. Yeah, well, clearly, humility

Phil Street:

you can ask a lot of fitness managers, they don't actually use the facilities. I play tennis, I think quite a lot. But you don't use the gym because the members are constantly on your case about some of that's not broken. Some of this broken or the showers I'm working on. Yeah, and this was like a five star hotel. So it was very different. It was like not running a hotel with fitness inside. A

Phil Street:

and join people up. So it's a bit brutal. Yeah. So didn't fancy that, because that's not really me. So ended up Yeah, went to college chairs and spent the next six years as an area manager, regional director, Director of Operations for the South with probably the most authentic brands and hard rock, I suppose in my journey, because they literally Italy was in Spain, Antonio was involved in the

Phil Street:

manager Southwest, perhaps then ended up doing the Midlands and London, Southwest London as well, which is great and Sullivan Caerphilly. So that was a nice journey every day. But yeah, so but great fun

Phil Street:

Good cheese.

Chris Fletcher:

Great cheese, great Cheese not as good as the cheese in Carluccios, though. The deli, but yeah, really good. Really good times there. And great fun. We grew from nothing 38 to 100 while I was there in terms of size of sites, so it was manic and a lot of the openings. Obviously were outside of London. So I had a lot of involvement in opening stuff, which is taxing on the mind

Chris Fletcher:

changes and, and you know, I'm sure it will go on another cycle. But at that point, it was time to go. So yeah,

Phil Street:

I was always wonder about that. When, when a company is scaling so dramatically, is how do you maintain that core message that you're the reason why it exists? You diluted

Chris Fletcher:

basically, obviously, it's like pouring a tap and put a load of bridges in there, it's going to dilute to different places. Yeah. And I think it is about the tentacles you have outside of the top teams, you've got Sarah ops director, Simon at sea, you know, Frank, CFO, alien head of HR, those four individuals alone, plus a lot of people who weren't around them and head office were

Chris Fletcher:

one the famous ones we start over if you saw the Miss lemon or used to go on the trip, but no one ever knew about that, you know, is a very internal thing. But I always wondered if you told everyone, would it make more people want to join? Or would it be? I don't know. Yeah. I always thought that it was such a cool thing. I used to say, I used to say to carry my wife. So I'm off to off to Venice

Chris Fletcher:

public outing on LinkedIn recently about why I've stepped down to just two days a week with Prime Minister now is, you know, is all there to see. So I have a young, a young lad who's got autism and when he was diagnosed, what year ago now, probably I said to john, the founder, who's fantastic guy, john trust, and the guys that run it said, Look, I'm going to struggle to do the daily commute and

Phil Street:

it just shows you the what, what about mutual respect does?

Chris Fletcher:

Yeah. Yeah.

Phil Street:

And I think that there's that can go an awful long way. I mean, It's an old cliche, respect goes a long way. But it's so true. In business. If there's mutual respect, then you can have honest and authenticConversations

Chris Fletcher:

Yeah, I think we were saying before we were talking on the tube and what he was saying about, like being nice to people. It's amazing how it pays back. And it's not and you shouldn't do that. That's not the right way to be nice. Just because you get it back. Yeah. But if you're genuinely a good guy or girl, funnily enough, people are good back to you. And I think with john and

Chris Fletcher:

put in, but it works really nicely. And it's given the opportunity, I suppose to kind of reset. Yeah, kind of gone home, what the doctors you said at the start and really thought about what I need to do and how I can be present and still look at the Nixon's needs with Carrie, and support her and the other two kids, so I shouldn't forget them. And it happens a lot, believe me, you know, really be

Chris Fletcher:

want to be the conduit between the two, where we tell stories and solve problems. It's our kind of mantra. Yeah. And it's been amazing. I mean, it's been really well received. We've, I mean, I'm surprised every day, every time I go into a meeting to talk about experience, we myself and carry my business partner, we're very passionate about it. So then people are quite shocked about the way we

Phil Street:

Have a snooze?

Phil Street:

yeah. I've often wondered about this as a business owner myself now about if I am ever to grow as a as a company, is what do you what do you give to your people to, you know, not make them want to come into work, but actually want to come in and do a good job. And I think that has to be a very, very open conversation. There's no, this is what I think I can impart my ideas, but I

Chris Fletcher:

Yeah,

Chris Fletcher:

Yeah, that's that's key now, isn't it? The engagement piece, which I think it was ignored for a long time? Maybe because casual dining was so strong? Yeah, maybe because casual dining was the employer of choice because everyone was growing Wagamama cappuccinos. So you asked grace Yeah, everyone was like Wow, I've got opportunity to go everywhere. But all of a sudden it hit a wall

Phil Street:

Yeah, absolutely. I mean, you know, you can we've just been at an event right? Let's be talking about the very same thing. And and the you can it's one thing to put posters up that tell people what your company values are, etc, etc. But if that's not seen through to some kind of human form, then it will just get lost in translation.

Chris Fletcher:

It's weird, isn't it? And that's why I refer back to harder being the most important part of my career because take time to be kind level servile, you know, the fact that I still remember them, let alone live and breathe them every day. Yeah. Is really clear. And that phrase I use if I can swear it should say shit. Yeah. That that was told to me by a callin the guy spoke about

Phil Street:

Yeah

Chris Fletcher:

...cover over sticker plaster on it, and move on sticker plaster. And I hope that class doesn't come up for a comeback. And it you spent a lot of time doing that. And the way to do it, obviously isn't that is to spend real quality time with the problem areas. Yeah. And then focus on the guys who are doing really well lift them up, elevate them. Yeah, tell them there's no one coming

Phil Street:

Yeah, no, yeah, absolutely. And I think the the point that you make about people engagement is it's going to be the Saviour of the industry. I spoke to somebody not that long ago, actually, who was talking about generations, Ed, and how you, I unload to do this, because I hate marking everybody with the same brush. Yeah. But if you wanted to just use that as an example, to just

Chris Fletcher:

So it all gratification

Phil Street:

That's the one, thank you very much. maybe don't have to edit. But and, and, in actual fact, this is an industry that can give you that corner, very, very frequent basis. But that then comes to leadership. And it you've got to get the right leaders in place. And I think what this industry and this is, it's been a victim of its own success in some ways. Because it's grown so quickly.

Chris Fletcher:

literally delivery is a good example of what casual dining did deliveroo, Uber, these guys, what they're doing now is it's on top meant literally flying and out spending off there are lots of spin offs who are trying to charge less margin on charge, but but I heard someone tell me the other day that one of those big providers won't name them. Don't have an l&d department, right,

Chris Fletcher:

happens to listen as well.

Phil Street:

So yeah, if that's true keep listening. Yeah. So I think that's that's a key point for me is that that you made a point earlier on in the conversation about the fact that I think a lot of the time and I certainly see this in mass media not so much in trade media Yeah. Is that the image of the industry is that you that you come in and you work long hours you go into show two

Chris Fletcher:

I think every one of my stories involves a person right I think I've mentioned three or four bosses already Yeah, who are working underneath and I don't call them bosses because they weren't they were friends right until the till the day I die. They will be my mates Yeah, you know and and they will have shouted at me like a parent and so they would have given me abuse probably saw

Chris Fletcher:

But it's a lot of that stuff will will come into play that really psychology understanding that this is great fun. It's high energy. Yes. You need to be a certain person to enjoy it. Yeah, definitely think that's the case. But there's a role for everyone. There's hope for everyone. I suppose if you're coming out of school.

Phil Street:

Yeah. You know, so as a chance, you know, it talks about, obviously, the news that we've had this week about the the immigration situation, which is a totally different subject matter to discuss at another time. But the the one thing that I've always loved about this industry is that the barrier to entry is zero. There is no barrier. Yeah, but it doesn't make you low skilled. That's

Chris Fletcher:

No, I mean, I think when when she said that yesterday, I generally was thinking hard about I think, am I low skilled, I think and I said earlier on that I wasn't the most academic guy yet, but I'm not stupid. And I think low skilled to me kind of kind of sits on a realm of being that accusing people of not being the, you know, the cleverest chaps in the room.

Phil Street:

Yeah.

Chris Fletcher:

And I totally disagree. I mean, I think I sent you on the tray that what hospitality gives us hope. It gives you the chance to go into an industry as a waiter, a barman? A pot wash, whatever, you want to be a maintenance guy. And you could end up the CEO. I'm not I'm not No, you literally could end up a chief exec your own your own bar or on your own restaurant or own your own

Chris Fletcher:

I'm writing her name down now...

Chris Fletcher:

But she she smile and and she basically talks about her. She is the epitome of people who love hospitality. She does it because she loves serving people. she really enjoys people having a good time because she looked after she still has a day called read today in hard rock. She's 80 years old now. She has a day in hard rock where she has read today where she serves three tables, right, which is

Phil Street:

Yeah

Chris Fletcher:

but externally you wouldn't even have a clue.

Phil Street:

I think if you know the you can't underplay actually what a skill It is to be able to work with people to make people feel special.

Chris Fletcher:

Yeah, yeah

Phil Street:

That I mean, that's, that's a higher skill.

Chris Fletcher:

I think on the empathetic empathetic side of things. It's really it's a massive skill. Yeah, most multi site, people I know and GM actually have got right if you did an empathy test on them, I don't know if there is one. But if it is some kind of score on their empathy level, I'd be really interested to see what where they score because I they get it? Yeah, they get it. And they

Phil Street:

Yeah. Yeah,

Chris Fletcher:

you know, an office if the damn one doesn't really matter. Yeah. And I'm sorry, I know that people gonna go you're big, letting them but it doesn't affect the actual operational pull of the office that day, potentially. But in hostiles Uh, yeah, that's, that's a big deal. Yeah, one chef down. Okay. You know, you must have 50% capacity. Yeah. So all of a sudden you change so yeah,

Phil Street:

Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. So, you're a career man of 25 years, you're your own words. You must have had some funny things happen to you over the years.

Phil Street:

Yes. Can you regale us with anything that..

Chris Fletcher:

my first girlfriend actually my first girlfriend in hostels is a lovely lady called Lindsay and we Linds work together and ask and there's nothing more hostile to me your partner's Yep. Generally through work. And we were, I was the openings manager said in Leeds, and we just open Greek Street. And she, we were locking up and I said, Well, I'll wait outside, we'll get a couple

Chris Fletcher:

front door said look, it's not normal. There. See what you're going to see right now is not normal as that okay, I said, Just take it as you go. And as I walked in, it was Halloween. This helps tell the story. I was walking up and we had a long article drum alley where lots of drum skins from famous drummers memorabilia on the walls, right and all the way up drum alley where a bunch of kids 1820

Phil Street:

Yeah, yeah don't go puring yourself a pint

Chris Fletcher:

Yeah

Phil Street:

A door just, opens itself

Chris Fletcher:

Oh yeah. How's it go? Yeah, to break into restaurants.

Unknown:

Yeah... erm... biggest lesson so far?

Chris Fletcher:

Ah, probably not following my gut enough I suppose when I was younger, right. So not really get when a lot of the time people know the right decision. That's why we have bosses because bosses go Yes, that's the right thing to do. So you ask them they say yes. So I think what we all need to do more of is just go with it. And then there'll be a lot more mistakes made, but they'll be a

Phil Street:

Yeah, is important. I think one of the things I've learned is that I'm actually I'm a massive fan of this programme. It's on Channel Four, the SAS really put generational No, no, no, no, no, no, yeah, that's a that's another matter. Yeah. And but the the guy who is kind of like the centre finger of that, there's four of the main ex SAS guys. But he, he actually, I've read his book,

Chris Fletcher:

Yeah, you've been very aware, don't you?

Unknown:

Yeah, yeah. And it's just it's the same principle for me as well, that I think a lot of people these days are not willing to work through problems. And but the best learning is on the other side of that all day problem. Yeah. And you would then look back at that problem in five years time and go why this is

Chris Fletcher:

strange, isn't it? And I thought we were almost talking for as you get older, obviously, your natural progression, if you're any good, you move up through the ranks of any business you're in and you end up with a senior position. And then you start looking backwards and you think, and you do kind of laugh at yourself almost thinking, why did I do that? Or why didn't I do that?

Phil Street:

Yeah, same thing over and over again.

Chris Fletcher:

Thing that stops you having more Kids, but yeah, so

Phil Street:

you've transitioned a little bit in the end, I mean, that in a work sense for me and so what does what does the next year hold for you?

Phil Street:

Aaaarm... hopefully a bit more calm as I say that I don't be boring and calm but I've got at the moment I'm spinning plates I've just come in and kind of still very connected to Prime Minister obviously, I still really care about what happens there and my team is still my team that so that that's gonna take time to still transition into the fact where I'm in a position where I'm very

Phil Street:

Yeah, one of the greatest sayings of all time

Chris Fletcher:

Yeah, and I think I've worked my bloody hours off you know in this industry I really haven't you very rarely set yourself you're very rarely say I've worked bloody hard. I deserve some luck and my carry sets me so things you've been working for you know, there's this is the ultimate goal is we're gonna get to I don't think it will stop I don't think it is going to stop for me

Chris Fletcher:

But that's the thing isn't it that the what we find cool is not necessarily my

Chris Fletcher:

I take advice from my kids. But yeah, I think I think leaving if I could sum it up leaving an impact over the next few years especially but experience would be great to look back and say yeah, I've been some of those events. They're really cool.

Phil Street:

Yeah, yeah, right. The yeah the cool for me know is learning that there's cordless vacuum cleaners that can Hoover up the dog's hairs easily

Chris Fletcher:

what I was telling you about David pelo from hard rock, he has a he showed me on a we were on his he moved Miami recently to take another global role for hardrock. And he said the coolest thing he did when he got there he found he had a robot Hoover in his house, which which follows the walls around he literally filmed it in centimetres like this is amazing. Make you've just

Unknown:

It happens. Absolutely. Okay, so maybe you've kind of covered this. But if you could give yourself one piece of advice, looking back on who you are all the way back at the beginning, or if you were starting out again, what would you tell yourself

Chris Fletcher:

I would use my famous phrase, which is now ever on my blog, if it shits say shit, I think it's my mantra that I always had inside of me, and especially for my mid 20s, I suppose, but never really called it out. I think calling things out is so healthy for everyone. Yeah, for my kids, I do all the time. And I'm very direct my kids, some people don't agree with that bite on

Phil Street:

Yeah, brilliant. That's a journey. Right? Yeah. Exactly. Exactly. Just halfway there

Chris Fletcher:

Fat lady is not singing yet,

Phil Street:

No, absolutely. So what what advice would you give to to anybody that's listening to this that's contemplating a career in hospitality? What What would you say to them?

Chris Fletcher:

I would say go for it. Because there is no other world where, as we said before, where you can escalate yourself quite quickly. And in the same way, be prepared? Because it's, it's not easy. You know, it's not a quick, I think a lot of guys came in during the casual dining growth. I thought I can get to GM and area manager really quick. And they wanted that. And some actually

Phil Street:

Yeah, Chris was directly responsible for a spike in staff turnover and all of our businesses. Mark. Definitely, he's definitely the tongue is firmly in cheek. Yes. on that one. Great. So if somebody wanted to reach out and say hello, and pick your brains on anything that you're doing,

Chris Fletcher:

I have a myriad of websites that are responsible for but you can you can get me on Chris at ask fletch dot com, or through the website ask fletch dot come, which is where I'm at mainly, then anyone who wants to talk on stage or tell us a really cool story, then grab us on social and experience one on one, which is kind of the place where all those stories are told.

Phil Street:

Yeah, no, that's brilliant. Chris Fletcher, thank you very much for your time.

Chris Fletcher:

Really enjoyed it. Really good to chat. Thanks, mate.

Phil Street:

So there we have it some great insight into the journey of an operations director. A big thank you to Chris for being such a superb guest. Don't forget, we'll be launching a new episode every Wednesday, but in the meantime, we'd love for you to subscribe to the show and give us a like and a share on any of the usual social channels. See you next time.