Hold the front page! National Press Club of Australia nabs Wedding Caterer of the Year and follows it up by winning Caterer of the Year. By Kerryn Ramsey
The Dalai Lama, PJ O’Rourke, Rosie Batty and a plethora of politicians are just some of the people who have had meetings with Paul Butler. As the food and beverage manager of the National Press Club of Australia in Barton, ACT, he knows how to get the best out of these inspirational speakers.
With his team of 20, including executive chef Daren Tetley, Butler aims at making the food and organisation as outstanding as the talks. “The team does a lot of research,” he says. “When we had Alan Alda here, our chef had found one of the dishes he’d made on a M*A*S*H episode and recreated that. Alan had a laugh and signed the menu for us. Things like that help make our jobs interesting.”
It’s the team’s attention to detail and seamless management skills that’s given them a major win, with two gongs at the recent Savour Australia™ Restaurant & Catering Hostplus Awards for Excellence. After winning the Wedding Caterer award, the team went on to bag the major Caterer of the Year award.
Butler says the success of the wedding catering business comes down to communication with clients. “We ensure the potential bride and groom have absolutely nothing to worry about. We offer different wedding settings, as well as our exquisite board room, which we transform into a bridal retreat. It’s little touches like that that really appeal to our clients.
Communication is key
Communication is another key element that makes the National Press Club outstanding. When it comes to putting together a wedding event, Butler and event manager Angelique deal with clients who range from easygoing to those who like to micro-manage every step. “If they see that you care and you’re looking after them, then it takes the pressure off and they enjoy the special event. Many of our staff have become Facebook friends with these couples because we’ve had so much interaction with each other. Not long ago, we did a christening for a couple that we’d married as well. That’s always a good sign,” he says.
Butler admits that running a catering business means that it’s certainly not a nine-to-five job. In fact, he was so flat out recently, he nearly missed the flight to Sydney for the awards night. A recent renovation of the club’s top floor had just been completed and the opening night was the same night as R&CA’s awards at Luna Park. “It was a soft opening so I just managed to get away,” he says, laughing.
The two-floor club comprises a main function space and kitchen on the ground floor, and the renovated top floor now has an expanded members’ lounge area, executive board room, a 30-seat restaurant plus al-fresco dining and two additional private dining spaces.
One of its major upgrades is its technology system, featuring a new business centre with smart TVs, high-speed internet connection and a tele-conference system.
Originally launched as a press luncheon club in 1963, the concept was the brainchild of a group of journalists over a few drinks at the Hotel Kingston. The first person who addressed the club was Chief Justice and External Affairs Minister Sir Garfield Barwick. Thirteen years later, Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser opened the new club premises in Barton where the club resides today. Over the years, the venue has hosted addresses from innovators, sportspeople, scientists, artists, religious leaders, writers and, of course, politicians. This includes every prime minster and opposition leader over the past 40 years.
“When I had the opportunity for Daren [Tetley] to come and join us here, I jumped at the chance and he’s taken things to a whole new level.”—Paul Butler, food and beverage manager, National Press Club of Australia
The club’s core team of seven, with a large group of casual wait staff and kitchen staff, can cater for 280 guests. “When the prime minister is here, we will squeeze in a few extras—up to 300 guests,” says Butler, “but that’s bursting at the seams.”
The spring/summer season is the busiest time of the year, with weddings, Christmas parties, and “any looming election is always a huge time for us”.
Butler has found that hiring, managing and keeping staff is one of the most complex issues. “It’s hard to find competent staff these days, so we’ve put in a lot of work and time to retain good ones,” he says. “We explain to the staff that they need to engage customers. They need to be positive, getting a really good outcome for the customer.”
He’s hired a diverse group of employees ranging from well-trained wait staff to students who are about to finish school or are completing a school-based apprenticeship.
“We’ve only got a small team and everybody’s got their own job. Everybody helps each other. We can all jump on a computer and do the membership, or take a booking, or whatever. Fortunately, we manage to maintain and retain a lot of our staff and their knowledge.”
With 41 years in the industry, Butler first started as a kitchen hand, moving on to be a chef in 1978. “I worked all over Australia and finally ended up at the National Press Club in 1999 as executive chef. I then morphed into food and beverage manager as I’ve found that catering offers great job satisfaction.”
There were no surprises when he started working with executive chef Daren Tetley who joined the club in 2011. They had worked together at Hyatt Hotel Canberra where Tetley was the banquet chef after a few years in the hotel’s Oak Room Restaurant.
Butler recalls: “When I had the opportunity for Daren to come and join us here, I jumped at the chance and he’s taken things to a whole new level. He’s very inspirational, very creative; he thinks about things in a totally different way and manages to bring these wild concepts out of his mind and put them onto a plate. He keeps me on my toes and keeps me positive.”
Butler and Tetley have a similar mindset and are never overwhelmed by politicians. “They’re all quite easy to get along with,” says Butler, “particularly when there are cameras around and everybody’s being as nice as they can be.”