A GROUP of cafes and pubs has overhauled working practices to tackle the “pingdemic” and improve work-life balance.

Oliver Weeks, managing director of Ideal Collection, has introduced a centralised production kitchen based at the café Kimbridge Barn near Romsey.

The kitchen can step in as required by other kitchens in the group to ensure continuation of service and consistency of quality in the event of staff shortages.

It will be overseen by James Ashley in the new role of head of production.

The company’s venues also include the Bugle in Hamble, Swanwick Boat House Cafe and the White Horse at Otterbourne.

Mr Weeks said: “I have wanted to create this new role and develop these new working practices for some time, however it has been accelerated by the pandemic and Brexit. This investment will make the business more sustainable in the long term.

“It was my idea, but partly inspired by the Ivy Group’s centralised production. However, this is on a much smaller scale. Staffed with highly skilled kitchen personnel, it allows us to maintain control over everything we produce and supports our ethos of using seasonal, fresh and local produce. Supporting local producers is of huge value and importance to our local communities and local economy; it is why we do what we do.

“We’ve got challenges, no question. We’ve put incentives in place for our chefs – including a bonus for going on this journey with us.

“The central production kitchen is in its early stages, but we can build this and grow this. It improves the customer experience by making it more consistent. For example, if an employee needs to self-isolate, it doesn’t close the business down. Our team all pull together; they want us to succeed and keep the business operating.”

Head of production James Ashley said: “I’m called on and leaned on by the other kitchens when necessary. It is similar to events catering in that we usually know a couple of days beforehand exactly how much is needed and where, and we can get everything ordered in and prepped in the production kitchen beforehand.”

Chris Heather, executive chef at Ideal Collection, worked with Mr Weeks on the new business model. “We want people to know that hospitality doesn’t need to be 14 hour days, seven days a week,” he said.

“This industry can provide great job opportunities and a good work-life balance. Every week my role is different. I am at present back in the kitchen to help other chefs; for example, coming to The White Horse on Sundays so that the head chef has the day off. I am very excited about what we are doing here at Ideal Collection.”