Team building excursions are all about reinforcing positive relationships in the workplace and boosting morale. However, does the traditional office night out model really accomplish these ideals?Enter AVEQIA, which is all about creating memorable moments over food – cooked by the guests themselves, with a helping hand from some of London’s top chefs. Based in the heart of London, the offering is simple: guests are divided into different groups who will work together to create a selection of dishes, whilst sipping away on fine wine and bubbles. We talked with CEO Paul Vines to find out how the company is using digital services to gain a competitive advantage.
(1) Please give us a brief introduction to the business?AVEQIA, the creation of Jean-Christophe Novelli protégé David Berggren, has helped develop the world of corporate and social team building, through the concept of “interactive cooking”. The concept is simple: through the careful guidance of Michelin star trained chefs, AVEQIA allows its guests to experience the preparation and enjoyment of food in a fresh, friendly, sociable and distinctive way. It’s all about sharing the culinary experience of cooking and dining together in the best equipped kitchen dining studios in London.
(2) What have the significant growth milestones been in the last few years?The launch of AVEQIA across two countries, a couple of years ago, was a massive milestone for the business. We now operate across London and in Sweden (Stockholm and Gothenburg), and the expansion has allowed us to prove that interactive/active cooking is something with an international appeal. We’re now looking to push the boundaries even further by broadening the range of gastronomic experiences and developing other venues. By attracting some of the best chefs in the country, with experience from a string of Michelin and top class restaurants around the world, having worked under chefs such as Gordon Ramsey and Alain Ducasse, we’re very proud to offer the very best culinary experiences to both corporate and private guests.
(3) What inspires you as an entrepreneur and how does that come across with your company?We are inspired by creating something different, a concept that’s easy to grasp yet is different to what we’ve seen to date. In this case, we are not a basic cooking school concept or a restaurant, we have created something new and exciting. Company meetings can often be rather tedious and longwinded and team building events a bit staged: yet these are both crucial for business growth and success. Being able to provide a solution where we gather groups of people, allowing them to bond and work together over a non-threatening and inclusive activity such as cooking allows businesses to work with their teams and clients in a much more efficient and rewarding way. By always striving to be at the forefront of innovation and demanding the best possible delivery from our team, we make sure we get things right for our clients whilst listening and acting upon their feedback. This drives us on to ensure our clients return for further events and recommend us to their colleagues.
(4) What kind of obstacles are you encountering as you grow your enterprise?As with most small businesses, finding the “right” people to work with can prove to be a challenge. At AVEQIA, we’ve got a small core team that are passionate about gastronomy and hospitality and future expansion with be dependent on not just recruitment but aligning the business with commercial partners and sponsors to develop its growth and protection of our brand values.
(5) For a company that isn’t technology based, how has a digital approach helped you to carve out a bigger market and acquire new customers?Today, whether you’re a technology based business or not, one can’t ignore the importance of applying a digital approach. Although late adopters, social media has become a very important channel for us and a great way of not only reaching out to new customers, and keeping current ones informed with what we’re up to, but also for spotting trends and raising awareness of our new events.
(6) How is technology helping you to overcome hurdles, and what are the challenges of implementation?Allowing customers to make enquiries through our website has simplified the booking process immensely as everything is processed by our automated central system. As we only deal with fresh ingredients that are being delivered each morning (our stock of produce is minimal) this has really helped us when it comes to planning ahead and to keep food waste to an absolute minimum. Needless to say, advances in tech also allow us to plan our social media content meaning that we don’t have to allocate time for this each and every day, which could otherwise become a time consuming exercise.
(7) Do you employ any kind of flexible working, and how does technology fit into this?Obviously we have a full time head chef and sous chef but all additional chefs, as well as front of house staff, are only present for designated events, and their hours are dictated by our bookings. However, all our staff are carefully trained to understand AVEQIA’s values and exacting attention to event delivery and guest satisfaction. For anyone office based (sales, marketing and finance), we apply a flexible approach where remote working is welcomed – as long as the work is being executed to the same standards within the agreed timeframe. Thanks to email and other online communications tools, we’re happy to be more accommodating to our staff’s needs.
(8) What kind of technology tools can you not work without?Basic database capabilities and booking systems are vital to the business.
(9) What kind of technology would help you better compete with larger rivals?Some of the great technology used by the bigger operators is simply too expensive for us at this stage in our development. Instead, we stick to what we know and trust and that produce results – Excel and Sage are vital. Other more integrated platforms that will allow us to house our digital marketing, CRM and enquiry management systems under one roof would be the desired technology, however this will only be achievable once the planned investment round is completed.
(10) Where do you want to take your business in the future?We will continue to grow our client base in the UK building occupancy to the desired level of 60 per cent over the next two years. The sales, marketing and support systems to facilitate this growth are all part of the plan to secure growth funding over the coming months. We are also looking at other markets, initially in Europe to extend the AVEQIA concept and partner with more established brands and venues to bring even more innovation and creativity in to the fields of gastronomy and hospitality We’re also tapping into the sports event market and are hosting high-profile events that engage sports personalities as part of the team interactive cooking experience.
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