With summer rapidly approaching, we wanted to investigate the options available for the FreeFrom holiday maker. We are delighted to have been able to interview Eddie McAdam, Group Food & Beverage and Retail Manager at Center Parcs.
Have a read of the interview to see how this popular UK chain of family holiday destinations caters for the FreeFrom diner.
Center Parcs cater for families do you know roughly the percentage of families who have allergies, Coeliac Disease and/or special diets who specifically come to Center Parcs?
As many as 20% of people could have a food allergy or intolerance, so that’s 800 guests at each of our villages at any one time, more than half of whom are children.
To what extent has Center Parcs adapted their menus to ensure the FreeFrom customer has a positive experience?
As every restaurant updates its menus, we introduce a specific menu solely aimed at our FreeFrom guests. We have Dairy & Lactose free, Vegan and Gluten-Sensitive menus in the majority of our restaurants.
Essentially, it’s about choice. Everyone wants to see a menu with a list of options, whatever their taste or requirement. It’s not just about the menu though, our staff are amazing at knowing the menu inside out, answering questions and going above and beyond to deliver an outstanding family dining experience.
How have you adapted your training to ensure the menu is provided safely for the FreeFrom Customer?
Our training has been designed by a Chartered Environmental Health officer and is bespoke to our business. It captures not only the legislative element but also keeps the guest journey at the forefront of the planning. This is about making sure the FreeFrom guest can be confident not only in the information provided about ingredients, but also in the process of preparing the dish to avoid cross-contamination.
How many members of staff are trained in allergy awareness and to what level, (eLearning and face to face)?
All staff have received a briefing on allergens, including those working in Housekeeping, Leisure and Guest Services. The whole food and beverage team and retail team are trained in allergy awareness through our internal electronic learning system (including regular updates). All Senior Managers have also received classroom training and cascade their knowledge to their teams.
How important was it to ensure that these staff members were trained?
It is absolutely essential that our team are trained, know the offering and can confidently offer the guest the information that they need. The team working in each restaurant are as just as important for creating that special family experience as the food and atmosphere is.
Do you have documented procedures so ALL (food service) staff are aware of the processes for the FreeFrom customer?
We have a full ‘DOP’ (Departmental Operating Procedure) which is 20 pages. This captures all processes from buying ingredients and obtaining supplier information to the service to guests and their experience.
How do you promote your FreeFrom offering to this specific customer?
Our menus make reference to our allergy menus and how to find allergen information these are available in the restaurants and on our website. We are also investing in a new recipe management system which will give guests the power to search the entire Center Parcs food and beverage database and find meal solutions for their special dietary needs when planning their break.
You have restaurants which are franchises / leased how do manage their FreeFrom offerings, do you stipulate what information and training they have in place?
Our concession partners operate their own policies but we do share best practice with each other wherever possible.
Do you see offering for the FreeFrom customer adds value to your business (£’s and loyalty)?
Absolutely, it’s about giving the guests not only an option, but a choice and for our guests to have a fantastic family experience. Families need to feel confident that their needs and requirements are understood and that every member of the family is catered for.
How do you see Center Parcs progressing the FreeFrom offering in the future?
We are continually developing our menus and searching for new ingredients. We have made small changes that aren’t necessarily noticed by the non FreeFrom guest such as the flour used to roll our pizza is gluten-free, enabling those guests to eat pizza and not be worried about flour contamination.
Our Group Development Chef takes the issue very seriously, he even lived as a FreeFrom customer for several weeks to really get into the shoes of a gluten free guest. His experiences ranged from really positive to surprisingly frustrating. Our FreeFrom guests feel just as special as all our guests do and are delighted they can order from the menu without concern or issue. To read more about James Haywood’s experience click here
Why has Center Parcs seen it as a high priority to provide for the FreeFrom customer, offering a choice vs compliance?
We are a leading short break provider where excellent guest service is at the heart of our success; we like to exceed expectations as much as possible.
What feedback have you received from the FreeFrom customer, and have you made changes based on this?
We have lots of very positive feedback, only a few days ago a family wrote on our Facebook page saying “Thank you for having vegan menus at The Pancake House, Sports Café and Huck’s. We had a lovely time at Sherwood last week and it was great to be able to eat out without a fuss.” Our aim is to make family dining as enjoyable and hassle-free as we can.
What has the retail side of the business done to accommodate the FreeFrom customer?
We have significantly increased our FreeFrom range in our on village ParcMarket. Allergen information for retail products is also available to guests.
James Haywood, Group Executive Chef, stated that “For us, being able to provide a fantastic family experience is what Center Parcs is all about. Family dining can often be a very hectic experience but by introducing lots of room around tables, highchairs, children’s buffets and these new allergen menus, parents can feel confident that their family dining experiences with us are nothing but good quality time together whatever their tastes and requirements.”