A marriage of styles

Absolute Taste has grown from the hospitality provider to the McLaren F1 team to one of the leading event players. Founded in 1997 Lyndy’s story is one of those of success in hospitality. In 1997 McLaren’s renowned CEO Ron Dennis asked her to set up a new business to cater for the team and the company expanded to include a portfolio of restaurants, cafés, private jets, bespoke events, fixed site contracts and performance sports. The business naturally caught the eye of Neil MacLaurin from his days as Managing Director of Keith Prowse and after an optimum chat in early 2016, the conversation around joining forces began.

The origins of One Event Management date back to 2009 and today comprises of a collection of companies specialising in the events and entertainment business including the recently acquired Absolute Taste.

“We also have sector specialisms in stadia catering through F3, lifestyle restaurants and bars, including The Muddy Duck, a school catering division and Fresh Air which is our luxury helicopter and private jet charter business” says Neil.

Turning to 2017, One Event Management has acquired the event design company in a move which sees their premium catering brand, Mecco, re-brand under Absolute Taste. It was an adventurous change for Lyndy but she felt secure that Neil and his team were making the right choice. “Absolute Taste is my baby and I have been on an amazing 20 year journey with McLaren.” Explains the humble and clearly excited Lyndy. “I felt an acquisition was always on the cards and if another company had come in, I may have left the business. But with One Event Management I was able and wanted to stay on because I’m happy providing delicious food.” She adds.

Neil is a calm yet affirmative leader. His manner is relaxed and welcoming and he knows that he has not only acquired a caterer that provides delicious food, but a team who are committed and loyal under Lyndy’s own distinctive leadership style. Together they laugh and are embracing and both emphasis the need for innovation for the company, their client base and their teams.

Lyndy explains the first moves. “We’re now double the size but we’re still small, boutique and all about food and not all about P&L.

We ensure that our clients are getting the best quality food and if we get that right the rest of it will take care of itself.” Neil adds to this point, “Where we are really taking the business is creating a proper integrated food and beverage business from the farms to the food on the plate. A lot of people talk about this philosophy but do many actually do it?

Absolute Taste has the passion, love and desire around food and what we’re adding to that is a robust story around the food element that’s core to what we do. I’ve been working in this industry for nearly 30 years and from what I’ve seen in the marketplace, there aren’t too many people doing that.”

Change can often bring fear and Lyndy explains how their existing clients were supportive of the journey when informed. “It’s a new adventure and by explaining to each client they realise that the team isn’t changing and the loyalty is still there. They have said they’ve never seen me looking happier and the fun can really start now.” The new team is already looking at restructuring menus and working on a seasonal philosophy. Absolute Taste takes teams of chefs to the farms and fields where the produce comes from. They are given an insight into how the blue gets into the Cornish blue cheese, where the micro herbs are grown and also get to pick strawberries down in Sussex. “We are endeavouring to showcase this to the whole new team and explaining why we always stick to what’s seasonal on the menus.”

Pushing the food story is vital to their growth and it has excited the whole senior team at One Event Management. “The attraction of Absolute Taste obviously includes the food offer at McLaren Technology Group and it isn’t beyond the wit of man to ask – how can we evolve in the sector?” asks Neil. Absolute Taste already considers itself the leading caterer for in- flight private jets and operates in London, Farnborough and Geneva. They believe there is potential for significant growth opportunities in this area and plan to invest in the right areas without leaving the creativity around food. “We don’t need to operate on a spreadsheet” Neil explains, a sentence many in this world would like to be able to say. He adds, “Let’s be true to what we are and talk to that business and industry market. Investing in the right areas for in-flight is a new area for many of us and we are putting a strategy in place to really grow this side of the business. The events world, generally speaking, is also an area we want to continue to grow. There are a number of major events in the UK which we want to explore as contracts come up.” Lyndy adds “Our retail side includes cafés in Chelsea Harbour, a café at Farnborough Airport and others. So we are looking at that area too.”

Fun, flair, creativity and design are all core to their food message. They have recently gone on a road show to explain this story and makes sure everyone understands it. “For other companies they argue that one menu fits all, but for us we just can’t do that. We want the chefs enthused and the reaction has been positive which brings a good buzz across the business.” Lyndy explains.

It is interesting to ask why others are not as successful in this space. Neil describes it as being true to your identity and market positioning. “We both have significant experience in this sector and we believe there is a space for a nimble and creative food business. We are fortunate to be privately owned and can therefore balance our acumen with agility”.

The acquisition has not just been on a business level but also on a personal level. Two experts have been brought together and a working relationship has flourished between the likeminded leaders. Both Neil and Lyndy have their own leadership styles and now coming together only asserts the company as the UK’s leading luxury event design business.