I was fortunate enough to attend the Catering Forum, and the contacts made during two days of hectic appointments are already proving valuable.
There was a good spread of both existing and prospective suppliers and I was delighted to renew the relationship with David Lyell of Town and Country Chocolates, who originally supplied me some 20 years ago at the Burford Bridge hotel in Dorking, Surrey.
Particularly striking was the diversity of skills, backgrounds and areas of catering operation attending. In one of the think-tank sessions our "industry" was represented by the head of a restaurant chain, a head chef from a fashionable London restaurant, social services and contract catering, football stadia catering, myself and about four other delegates, all with equally varied backgrounds.
Each of us had a different perspective on our business, but the recurring theme appeared to be that we need to do more to promote the hospitality industry to schools and to family and friends in order to help retain staff, recruit more middle-aged staff and improve the image of the industry in the eyes of careers teachers and their colleagues, thereby easing the colleges' recruitment burden.
Since then, I have met with resistance from our local school - the careers teacher may speak to me in September if there is a chance we will take a student on two-week work placement - and a point-blank refusal from our local NVQ trainers, who cannot create a training plan and appraisal schedule to fit our requirements as event caterers.
Our ongoing schedule of training currently includes a forklift truck certificate for one of the team who missed the last set of instruction and an intermediate food hygiene course for my new operations manager, Neil Cooper.
We have an ongoing responsibility for the training records, maintenance routines and compliance with the requirements of our operator's licence. In the odd lull between the admin we get the occasional chance to do a bit of catering - and last month has been pleasantly busy.
Following our repricing exercise, our mix of business has altered: we are now reaping the benefits of a reduction in functions, but an increasing menu price and improving profit margin.
ROBERT ALVAREZ is proprietor of Phoenix Hospitality event caterers in Towcester, Northamptonshire
Next diary from Robert Alvarez: 30 August