Treating Staff Fairly: Searcys
Searcys is one of the UK’s oldest catering companies, founded by John Searcy, an entrepreneur who identified a niche for events and entertainment in Victorian society. We caught up with Anna Fenten, Marketing Director, to chat about how sustainability and its approach to ESG is key to the continued success of the business, and why looking after our people has always been at the heart of the Searcys brand.
ESG is integral to the business
Searcys has been catering for events, parties, meetings and conferences for over 175 years, and Marketing Director Anna Fenten is clear that this longevity is at least partly owed to its ESG work. “It is what’s expected by our customers, our people and our partners,” she tells us. “It is an integral part of the business.”
Searcys has a continuous commitment to becoming more sustainable, from policies on how they select and work with suppliers to actively reducing food and energy waste across their venues. In 2019, the team created a set of sustainability pledges, that are continuously being implemented across the business. These include procurement policies that specify British meat, poultry, fruit and vegetables (from regenerative farms where possible) and only buying fish from the Good Fish Guide; ensuring menus always feature plant-based dishes; and launching a carbon footprint calculator trial to help reduce their impact.
The team uses a set process for working through each area for improvement. Once an issue has been identified, they define the scope and seek to understand what is needed, then develop a comprehensive, clear and achievable plan with measurable targets. “It’s about taking people on a journey,” says Anna, “including our management, teams, customers and suppliers.” Communication is a priority throughout. “It’s important to share where we are now and shout about our achievements, and we’re not shy about highlighting and managing the gaps.”
An appetite for sustainability
In recent years, it’s become clear that sustainability is desirable to both customers and diners. “More and more event bookers are asking about our sustainable practices before progressing,” she shares, “so it’s key for Searcys to have our pledges and processes clearly outlined”. The team has also noticed an increased interest in plant-based options and the provenance of ingredients. “There is definitely an appetite to dine more sustainably.”
Searcys first came across the Food Made Good standard in 2019, on the hunt for an exacting framework with clear-cut objectives. “That year, we worked very hard to revamp our supply chain and launched our sustainability pledges, divided into sections on produce, people and community.” Once their first pledges had been translated into actions, the team decided that Searcys was ready for an external audit. “This is where the Food Made Good Standard became vital,” says Anna. “It’s a very thorough process, requiring an enormous amount of detail and supporting documentation, but this ensures the robustness of the process and, ultimately, the value of the accreditation.”
The team was awarded their first three-star Food Made Food Standard at the beginning of 2020. “Needless to say, we were absolutely chuffed. And then the pandemic hit.” Throughout these tough years, management chose to focus on the wellbeing of their staff and did their best to support their suppliers, reaching out regularly and promoting their partner online stores.
“Communication played a big role, and we managed to reopen the business with gusto,” says Anna. With gusto is right: in 2022, the team celebrated Searcys’ 175th anniversary, an incredible achievement. “Another absolutely tremendous achievement was reconfirming our three-star FMG certification at the start of 2023.” None of this would have been possible without placing a high importance on the wellbeing of their team.
People are our privilege
Like any hospitality business, Searcys is a people-centric company. “Our brand comes to life through the actions of our people, day in and day out,” says Anna. “There is an enormous feeling of belonging and care here, which we believe started with the founder; he was described as ‘gentle, courteous and masterful’. This attitude has carried through to this day.”
There’s no better testament to a positive work environment than long staff tenures – especially in an industry known for its typically high turnover. “We are enormously privileged that team members stay with Searcys for many years, progressing through the company to more senior levels,” says Anna. In fact, some of the key members of staff are celebrating 35 years at the company – a true testament to its commitment to employee wellbeing.
Taking the Food Made Good Standard has also played a role in how Searcys looks after its people. “Our 2019 audit shone a light on the importance of team wellbeing and development,” Anna explains. Since 2021, the company has introduced new perks, from family days to Searcys’ own awards that recognise stand-out achievements. In 2023, they also announced improved benefits as part of their recruitment, training and retention strategy. These now include up to 38 days of annual leave, enhanced maternity and paternity payments, and access to over 43 apprenticeship schemes and Searcys Champagne School.
“Mental wellbeing is paramount,” says Anna, recognising the pivotal impact that this can have in an industry that runs on face-to-face interactions. “That’s why all team members have access to a 24/7 employee assistance programme, in-house mental health first aiders and gym discounts.”
“We are enormously proud of achieving our second FMG three-star certificate in 2022,” Anna says. “It is a great way to showcase the progress we are making to our diners, clients and team. The certificate is proudly displayed on our website and menus and across various comms, from internal newsletters to events proposals.”
For any business considering the Standard, Anna recommends using the process as a matrix to plot what you’re already doing and identify the gaps, then defining a clear timeline for submission. Next, she says, it’s crucial to make sure your team is on board – no surprise there, for a company with such a big focus on its people. “For us, the critical team members were our executives and development chefs, operational teams, purchasing and marketing representatives. Involving the entire team allows more creative thinking, letting you explore new avenues and implement strategies successfully.”
Ready to learn what makes staff wellbeing such a crucial part of your restaurant’s sustainability work? Click here!
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