The Ins & Outs of Planning & Managing Dark Kitchens at Honest Burgers

Episode 10

Facilities Management Podcast


About this episode

Thomas Maynard, Head Of Maintenance & Facilities at Honest Burgers, explains the importance of communication between all stakeholders when planning a second dark kitchen build in Canary Wharf.


Matt [Host]: All right, everyone. Welcome back to the Comparesoft Podcast. Great to have you here as it always is.

Today, our guest is Thomas [Maynard]. Thomas is head of maintenance and facilities at Honest Burgers and has worked with well-known companies including D&D London, Criterion Capital, and now with Honest Burgers. And Thomas has recently been working on a range of projects, including the build of their latest dark kitchen. It’d be really great to get his take on facilities management.

Welcome to the show, Thomas, how are you doing? Thanks for coming on.

Thomas Maynard: My pleasure. Thanks for having me. I’m doing really well. It was a manic week last week with the build, but we opened as planned at half 11 this morning, and the orders have started to come in. It’s always nice to see that once you’ve finished a project like that.

Matt: Well, let’s jump straight into it then. It’d be very interesting to get, as we said before, your take on our questions here. How do you go about setting a good facilities management culture?

Thomas: For me, I mean, one thing that’s always going to come up when talking about facilities management, or maintenance management is communication. I think there needs to be a balance, though, between communication and micromanaging. Especially if you’re like I’ve had in the past a team of engineers, I’ve always wanted to be kept updated by them. We would often have a weekly meeting. But I would never want to do that daily. I think it’s too intrusive. I want them to know that they’ve got my trust to be out there doing their task, and I trust them to complete them as they need to.

And again, it’s not just them keeping me updated. But then me keeping other people updated with the progress and projects. Yeah, I think that’s what promotes a good culture. It’s just not ignoring people. Like there are delays that are going to happen with certain things, especially with I mean, we’re still suffering with parts and what have you from COVID. Not being able to hold stuff for four to six weeks. But as long as people are aware of that they can push to go appreciate these things happen. But for me, it’s when you just don’t talk to people, they sort of think nothing’s being done about it. So yeah, it’s communication for me is key in that.

Matt: Yeah, absolutely. And so, then what’s the best way to plan for facilities management activities?

Thomas: It’s just having a decent schedule, really working towards what it is you’re also wanting to achieve? And then what is your step-by-step process to get to that goal? Again, making sure a line of communication between all parties involved, especially in larger projects where you could have multiple trades working in one site. You need to bring it all together. You can’t deal with them individually. Because the number of times I’ve seen it, where electricians will come in to start and something hasn’t been completed that they need to be completed before they start. And then they can’t come back for a week because they had other stuff booked in.

Yeah, again, it’s going back to that communication. It is planning. It is bringing everyone together and making sure just the organisation is there. To be honest, you’re always going to learn from your mistakes. Canary Wharf was our second dark kitchen, and this was considerably smoother and easier than the one I did three months ago. Because I’d learned from my mistakes on the first one.

Matt: Yes. Well, they say it’s not a mistake, as long as you learn from it, right? So, there we go.

Thomas: Well, exactly. Yeah, and that’s the thing. No one’s perfect with what they do. It’s exactly what you just said. It’s about thinking about what happened last time and taking the steps to improve it and not letting it happen again.

Matt: Yeah. And so, I think this next question is something you’ve probably come up against quite a bit in your role, and we were talking about communication earlier. How do you think facilities management teams should go about driving appreciation for maintenance teams across the business, particularly with the top management getting that recognition?

Thomas: I’ve always thought this is a tricky one. There have been times in the past when I think maintenance and maintenance teams can be made to feel like they’re nothing but a drain of funds on a company. They’re not a profit-generating department. They are constantly asking for money to carry out work or projects or compliance based on needs. And so there is that issue with it.

I think, for me, I often feel like pointing out that without these efforts, your business wouldn’t be running at all. So cut us some slack. But to be honest, I’ve always been very lucky that the work myself and my colleagues have done has always been vaguely appreciated. Honest. About six months ago, they decided to start a team member of the company appreciation. Every month one person would get picked. And on that very first month, the company came back with something like over 80% of the company voted for me, which was just fantastic. It’s not something I struggled with in my current role. No, they are brilliant with that.

Matt: Amazing.

Thomas: But to be honest, the truth is, I don’t have a direct answer to that question. I think, again, it’s talking to people. I regularly meet with our CEO, our CFO, area managers, and even general managers. It’s from the lower management levels to the top-level management. I think having those regular meetings allows them to have an insight into the amount of work that is involved, especially for the upper management and in the restaurant managers that I deal with. It shows you that you’re there to support them, and you are just there to help them run a successful restaurant as best as possible.

Matt: And so does your work differ between the dark kitchens and the normal kitchens? What’s the difference?

Thomas: Massively. A dark kitchen is considerably easier because there’s no front of house to worry about. Cost-wise, they are hugely different. I mean, you could be talking under six figures to multiple six figures on a full restaurant build. The design of it is your seating configuration. There’s a lot more to think. The kitchen is effectively the same, that’s the only bit that stays completely the same between the dark kitchen. Because with the dark kitchen, your drivers come up to your door and they take it away.

Often, you have a hot cover, not a hot pass. But generally, you’re thrust fires, grills, and the main cooking equipment we use is all the same. You could basically take it and put it in one of our normal sites, and it would work. There are just a lot fewer moving parts. Actually, a lot easier to build, especially because you usually go into a dedicated site that is a dark kitchen site. So you could be there with 10 other brands ordering the same thing. You’re in a purpose-built room.

Whereas in a normal restaurant, you could be going into a location that wasn’t a restaurant before you and then that has no extraction ducting. And then I’ve got to get planning permission to run the duct up the side of the building to the roof for I mean if I’m really making changes, I want to get building control involved in planning permission.

At best, you can probably plan and put a dark kitchen together in about two weeks. Whereas before the restaurant, I mean, build wise, best build in the world eight weeks. If it was it wasn’t a restaurant before 12 weeks, and that’s the actual build. You’ve got, well, a minimum of a month more like two months of surely creativity and planning before that. Yeah, it’s a much larger, much more in-depth process. Which is still fun. Just yeah. Don’t ask me to do two of them at the same time.

Matt: Right. Okay. And so, the dark kitchens. Are we going to see more of those? Is there more in the pipeline?

Thomas: I think so. I mean, I think there are. In fact, I know there are companies out there or food supplies out there that only operate in dark kitchens. They do not have a physical restaurant anywhere. I mean, just, for example, say cost half a million pound to build a restaurant. You could probably open up at least five if not six dark kitchens for the same amount. And because your outgoing, so a lot less. You’ve got no funds for your staff. Your rent is cheaper. Your bills are cheaper. Your turnover doesn’t need to be the same to be profitable. Again, somewhere like well, we’ve just opened your housing, Canary Wharf, and Canary Wharf is a finite amount of space with quite expensive properties within it. Whereas we now have a delivery capability into that whole area without having to find an actual physical location. And that is a very attractive offering.

It’s not just Canary Wharf that people are going to want to do that with. I certainly think that you’ll see more popping up in places. Even you can tell that because there are people, delivery used to run their own dark kitchens. Whereas now you’re getting companies that are going into places like industrial estates, where you can get a screw fix at all stations and a dark kitchen. They will buy that whole unit and they will convert it into 20 pods, and then they’ll rent those out to whatever companies want to kind of set up in them. The fact that those companies have been born shows the demand is there.

Matt: And so, you said that this is your second dark kitchen build, correct?

Thomas: Yes. We had previous dark kitchens, but we changed our delivery, our contracts to a different delivery platform. We then had to pull out the dark kitchen we were in and look to open them up in places, especially places where we weren’t previously.

Matt: What mistakes or challenges did you learn from the first build that you took into the second build?

Thomas: I think and again, this goes back to the planning side of things. One of the things is don’t just do it within your own department. Go and speak to the people that will be working on this site. When I refurb a restaurant, I would now never do it without speaking to the managers, the shift managers, and even the waiters and waitresses, because they’re the people that have to operate within it. You want to find out if there’s anything that you’ve not thought about, that is going to help them. I’ll be honest, when I did the first one, I went in there. I knew what they needed to produce our menu. I knew roughly what refrigeration space they’d need, but I didn’t give as much thought to it. Actually, they’ve got so much other stuff they need to store. So, it was just little things, but we had these benches. There wasn’t enough prep space on them when they put all of the ingredients on the bench. So then I had racks put on top of gasper holders, so they could then move that off the bench and open up the bench in the prep space.

It was only little things, but it was just operational when it was finished, and it worked. And it opened and it ran while the other changes took effect. But they came to me and said, “Do you know what would make our life easier, Thomas? It would be if we could have this, this and this.” I got that done.

The difference was when I built Canary Wharf, that was then in the original plan. Also, the advantage is that the cost for it was known before we went in, whereas my costs for the first build became increased because I did it afterwards. So when this one was done, basically, the budget I said is exactly what we spent. There have been no additions from it finishing, which is always ideal in my world, rather than having to go and ask for more money or until you spent more money as I prefer.

Matt: Yes. Okay, well, moving on from that, then, what’s the best way to implement an effective facilities management plan?

Thomas: I would say this is very similar to effectively planning for activities, as well. If you’re talking about a PPM schedule, plan preventive maintenance, it’s really working out. I mean, a lot of them set standard ones, if it’s your refrigeration servicing or your filter cleaning, then you just want to make sure it’s right for your company. And that you’ve had it sort of bespoke to the equipment you have and working with that. Also, tendering out to multiple contractors as well. Just take the first option you’re given. You might find some people have a better way of doing things and also a more competitive price.

With regards to sort of the larger projects or the ad hoc projects, then again, it’s about that communication, and also hearing out everyone else’s opinion. I mean, I’m head of my department, but I’m not always right. There’s no doubt about that. And some people have come up with ideas that hadn’t even occurred to me and I thought, “Yeah, that’s absolutely brilliant. Let’s do it that way.” It’s just bringing people together, and then setting up the clear steps to achieve whatever goal is you’re working towards.

Matt: And so then moving into the discussion about technology in the future. What do you think about software tools? Do you think they’re useful for managing facilities management activities?

Thomas: Personally, for me, I think they’re crucial. I certainly would, especially for someone in my position, we’ve got closing on 50 sites now. Having software that everything is, I mean, everything is in one place. With a few clicks of a mouse, I am into one dedicated site. I can see all of my compliance certificates. I can see all of the service contracts. I can see the reports from the previous visits. I can also see every current call-out or quoted work that’s going on.

I can look at the completed callouts and what the reports were for them. I can even look at the stuff that’s in the pipeline that I’ve thought about doing, or not necessarily me the managers have access to this as well. They may be raising a quote, to have the front of their shop refurbished, and I can go, “Yeah, actually, do you know, they are like that doesn’t need doing.” It’s going to have to be sent to me for approval. Having everything in one place like that is, I don’t honestly know how to do my job without it.

Matt: Do you still use spreadsheets then? A little bit of the old school? Do they still have their place? Or what would you think of that? Are they on their way out?

Thomas: I do. I think the idea of using them, because I have previously, have worked somewhere where they had a tab for every single site and a job list. I think that’s one. It’s too much manual information to have to input. Nowadays, you have live spreadsheets compared to the old Excel spreadsheet where you could update one, and another person updates another, but it wouldn’t sync together. Because you’d send it and go, “I thought you’d done this.” They’d go, “But I did it.” “No, that’s clearly not the version that I’ve got.”

Matt: Sounds like good excuses too. “I lost my connection. I swear I did it.”

Thomas: You have just lost the ability to blame it on not sending the right version and quickly updating it with something you hadn’t actually done.

Matt: I don’t want to be cynical, though.

Thomas: Not at all. The live spreadsheets are better. I don’t think they’re right for certain aspects, especially not when there’s a lot of information to be inputted. And especially when you look at some of the software out there where there are QR codes. So, people can have a phone, they can lock themselves on site. I know, for example, the security, where they have to do a security walk around, they go and have to scan a QR code. You don’t even have to be anywhere and automatically update to let you know that they’ve done their walk around at that time and checked off at every checkpoint around the building. For most of it, most of the industries I speak to now have moved on from them. However, there is always going to be a place for spreadsheets and maintenance. They are still useful. I still use them for most of my financial side of things when I am doing a proposal on money affects what I want to spend in the future.

Also, if I’m doing a foresight for company rollout, a good example is, I’m just about to order furniture for all of our sites. The easiest way for me to do that was to create a live spreadsheet and ask the hiring managers to let me know how many chairs and tables they need for each of the restaurants in the region. And then once they’re ordered, I can simply either highlight themselves in green or mark it as completed as the deliveries are sent out. I still use them. I still use them a lot. I just don’t think they’re right for certain aspects of facilities and maintenance. But as I said, they’re never going to disappear completely. I think that’s probably right for you.

Matt: Let’s go into the next round then. So, what are your top three tips for our listeners on effective facilities management?

Thomas: I’m sure this is quite a common one, to be honest. It ensures you’ve got the required service and preventative maintenance plans in place. Preventative is always going to be cheaper in the long run than reactive. Yeah, it’s going to save you money. So make sure you’ve got those schedules in place and with the right contractors, and also make sure that every so often you tend to them out to make sure you’re still getting the best price for what it is you’re looking for.

Another one that I’ve seen mistakes made in companies is not having an up-to-date asset list, and not keeping updated as the equipment is condemned or it breaks down beyond repair. So you do remove it from the site and buy a new one. And also, the cost tracking on that asset. I think it makes a huge difference if you can look at a fridge or whatever industry working and go, “Oh, well, that fridge has had 2000 pounds spent in the last six months. So I’m going to stop chucking good money after bad. I can also see that it was put in the site four years ago. It’s very much time to buy a new fridge.” Also, some of these software will actually flag to you. When you get a repair quote, if you go to prove it, it will say to you, “Are you sure you want to do this, this will be x amount of money you’ve spent in the last 12 months.” And then you can just look at the asset and it will show you everything that’s happened to it in the last 12 months. And you go, “Actually, you’re right Mr. Software. I don’t want to do that. It’s time to buy a new one.”

And lastly, it’s all about planning, communication, or organisation. Taking in other people’s opinions, keep up to date with your contractors and make sure they keep you updated. Because they wouldn’t want to always do that. You do always have to chase for updates. But if you don’t do that, you can’t pass on that information to the people above you or the people who asked for it. It’s very true in dealing with large projects that have a lot of moving parts. If you don’t plan and organise well, it can very quickly overwhelm you.

Matt: Okay, amazing. Top three tips there. Some of the best I’ve heard.

Thomas: Thank you.

Matt: Going into our last question then. What’s your favourite saying? Or quote on FM?

Thomas: I thought two of them actually, but they’re both from the same person. One makes me laugh because I think it applies to me slightly. one I think he’s just slightly more– Well, maybe it rings true as well. They’re both from Albert Einstein. The first is; if I had an hour to solve a problem, I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and five minutes thinking about the solution.

I think it’s very easy to get hung up on a problem and your mind goes off in different places. Whereas actually, that’s not what you’re working towards. You need to stop that and really work out, “I’ve got the problem. I can’t change that. How do I resolve it?” And swap that 55 to 5-minute ratio around.

Then my favourite one from Einstein is; we cannot solve our problems with the same thing we used when we created them. You might build something that was absolutely fine at the time, but a situation may arise that build needs to be changed, but you can’t then look at it with the same thinking that you put into the original bill. You need to look at it as a blank sheet or in just a fresh way. Don’t look at the original plans. Look at what you can do to change it, to make it work with whatever problem you are now facing.

Matt: Yeah, a little bit like insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result, right?

Thomas: Exactly that.

Matt: All right. Fantastic. Well, Thomas, thanks for being on the show. This has been great and you’ve been a fantastic guest. You’ve given us some really insightful information there. Thanks for coming on.

Thomas: My genuine pleasure. Thank you for having me.

Matt: Best of luck with the dark kitchen.

Thomas: Thank you.