As a leading food and drink agency we are regular attendees at Arena networking events. This December their Christmas event was long-awaited, as it marked not only the unofficial start to Christmas (in my humble opinion), but also the very first function to be held at the Mandarin Oriental since its fire and refurbishment. As well as the draw of the opulent surroundings of the Mandarin Oriental, the running order of the day boasted a presentation from Peter Backman and a talk from Chef Patron of Lympstone Manor, Michael Caines MBE.

After refreshments and networking, the day started with Peter Backman’s review of 2018 and a look ahead to 2019. In a nutshell our ‘rollercoaster sector’ of foodservice and hospitality was influenced by the 3 W’s in 2018 – the weather (the beast from the east and exceptional summer temperatures), the World Cup and the web (delivery & technology) along with the ever-present uncertainty of Brexit looming, active M&A within the sector and allergens hitting the headline with the tragic Pret fatality. As for 2019 he sees these factors continuing to influence the market as tough becomes the new norm and operators look to plan for the unplannable.

Peter was then joined by Klaus Goeldenbot, the Group Chief Executive of Nisbets and Rob Liddiard, Founder and CEO of Yapster (a digital communication service which companies can use in place of platforms like WhatsApp groups to keep all sites from head office to high street units in touch). They discussed the importance of getting the basics right, incremental innovation and listening to customers to understand what keeps them up at night and address their pain points accordingly.

The lunch was, as you can imagine, a triumph from the team at the Mandarin Oriental and was followed by a talk from Michael Caines MBE on his project of a lifetime, Lympstone Manor, the 21-bedroom hotel, Michelin starred restaurant and vineyard (with a spa in the offing). He spoke with passion about the project, which saw him take a Grade II listed building over-looking the Exe Estuary (and former family home to the Bearing bank dynasty) and transform it, with the help of skilled local and international designers and craftspeople, into the stunning and unique property and experience it is today.

He talked of the importance of seizing the day, quoting the Chinese Proverb about how the best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago, but if you didn’t do it then the best time is now. This drive to make things happen has seen him ‘think big’ and match it with knowledge, dedication and hard work to make his vision a reality. He is clearly passionate and has even coined the hashtag #NoReasonJustPassion to capture his story. An inspiring talk by a hugely driven and talented individual and a great culmination to a great day. Well done to Lorraine and her team at Arena on another great event. To find out more visit www.arena.org.uk