Recognising a gap in the market for a catering service that would offer more than a list of soggy sandwiches and ‘posh’ crisps, Sarah-Louise Walker, Managing Director of The Leeds Club Kitchen launched a bespoke service that would bring fine dining to doorsteps and desktops

Having worked in the hospitality industry for more than a decade, Sarah was only too accustomed to the difficulty that clients would have when looking for a catering service that would meet with their growing needs, including foods that were free-from and suitable for people with a growing list of intolerances.

Sarah comments: “I had come across the same frustrations time and time again with clients asking how it could possibly be so difficult for a chef tocreate a menu that would meet with their specific needs. I wasn’t absolutely sure of the answer if I’m honest. Surely people couldn’t be so blinkered as to think that companies would be happy with the same thing every month? However after looking more closely at the market, that is exactly what was happening.

“I’d considered launching a fine dining service for years but now seemed like the perfect time. The market was ready for a new approach to catering that would capitalise upon the awareness of good, quality food, the growing appreciation of dishes with a differenceand locally sourced ingredients. It was just up to me to pull it together.”

Clients in control
Not even a year later and The Leeds Club Kitchen has proven Sarah’s theory correct. Companies including ASDA, HARIBO and PWC have all called upon the fine dining service to cater for their events, some of which have welcomed global entrepreneurs and international guests.

Sarah continues: “We had to turn the usual approach on its head and rather than telling the customer what they could have, we asked them what they would like. This meant that before we even started they were in control and could add some personality to the occasion through the dishes that we served.

“All of our food is freshly prepared and presented so that it looks as good as it tastes. There is no point in preparing delicious dishes if you then serve it on paper plates. It defeats the whole object. That is why we provide our clients with a total service, giving customers everything they need to make a lasting impression.

“It doesn’t have to be about business, we cater for private events too and some of our largest engagements have been on location at a customer’s home. These are the events where feedback is often more forthcoming and there is nothing better than hearing people comment on how tasty the food is and more so that they weren’t expecting such an impressive spread.”

From the outset The Leeds Club Kitchen has made sure that the food has been at the forefront of its offering. With a dedicated executive chef, the business relies on new ideas, current trends and recommendations that will give a twist to classics that people still enjoy but want to see presented differently.

Some of the most popular dishes have included lettuce wraps, seasonal salads, mini fish and chips, bite-sized Yorkshire puddings and afternoon tea with homemade scones, jam and clotted cream.

Sarah continues: “Our customers want something different, they want a twist. They don’t want sandwiches or sausage rolls; they want us to take a brief and to come up with some ideas that will impress their guests. Often it’s the littlechanges that make all the difference likethe lettuce wrap. Not only is a healthier option, which is often important to our clients, but it is gluten free, providing those with wheat intolerance with a finger food they can enjoy.”

Bespoke service
Despite recognising a gap in the market, The Leeds Club Kitchen is still one of very few catering businesses that provide a bespoke service, giving customers the chance to dictate or manipulate their menu.

Sarah continues: “Fine dining isn’t a trend, it’s increasingly becoming an expectation. People are asking why they should settle for a list of fillings when what they actually want is something that will meet with the requirements of the guests.

“The events that we work on often have themes, and this should be reflected in the food but we hear all too often that our clients are told that this simply isn’t possible. Good quality catering shouldn’t be about compromise, it should be about delicious dishes that look and taste amazing.”

Full package
With many catering companies claiming to be fine dining but actually providing a relatively standard package, customers have become disillusioned and often expect that they will simply pay more for a menu that they could get elsewhere.

Sarah concludes: “It is frustrating that companies position themselves as offering fine dining when actually what they may have is a few unusual ingredients. If you are going to claim to be fine dining then it has to be the full package.

“We welcome competition, not least because we know that we have an excellent product, great service and a proven track record. We know that we have raised the bar and we do hope that others will do the same and that we can lead by example.

“When we launched the business we made sure that we had everything in place to allow us to deliver fresh food to the doorstep or desktop. It had to be fresh and we had to have the space and the equipment to allow us to serve hot and cold foods. Our purpose-designed mobile catering van means that we have everything in place to meet with the expectations of our customers wherever they are based.”

There are always trends within the food industry and this means that the requirements of customers are often influenced by things that they have read, seen or tasted.

Sarah concludes: “It is important that we are aware of any particular trends within the industry, although we prefer to lead as opposed to follow we cannot afford to become complacent. An ongoing trend is seasonal ingredients and those that mean something or have a particular heritage, such as rhubarb or liquorice in West Yorkshire.

“With fine dining people want to know that they are getting the best and we will do all we can to reassure our customers that they will not get a better service from any other catering company in the West Yorkshire region or beyond.”

The Leeds Club is a Grade II listed building in Leeds with 12 function rooms and benefits from its in-house catering team which brings over 40-years’ experience to the venue. The Leeds Club Kitchen extends this offering by taking fine dining to desktops and doorsteps throughout Yorkshire, encouraging people to opt for handmade produce that is sourced locally.