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11 Questions with...Marc Hornby of Caviar & Chips

This month we ask Marc Hornby, CMO and co-founder of Caviar & Chips, about his inspiration, advice and future plans

Business owner Marc Hornby sitting by a sign with his name on it

Business owner Marc Hornby sitting by a sign with his name on it

Marc Hornby started wedding catering business Caviar & Chips with his business partner Jonathan Carter-Morris in 2017. This month we ask him our key 11 questions about his business, his inspiration and his big plans for the future, as well as touching on what they learned and how they adapted during the pandemic. 

We also learn about their newest venture - wedding venues. They're preparing to open new venue Stockton House in 2022, and have plenty more exciting projects in the pipeline...

1. How Did You Get Started in the Wedding Industry?

I started in the wedding industry back in March 2017 with my co-founder, Jonathan Carter-Morris. We were studying our MBAs at Aston Business School at the time and were planning on starting a hospitality business together, but weren't quite sure where to begin. We just knew that it had to be a great place to work and that it should be all about creating really special moments and memories for our clients.

Caviar and Chips co-founders Marc Hornby and Jonathan Carter-Morris looking at the plans for new venue Stockton House

It just so happened that Jonathan was engaged and planning his wedding in November of that year. Jonathan has been a chef since he was 19 and worked in hotels, bars and restaurants all around the country. He and his (now) wife, Gemma, love dining out, cooking at home and wanted a wedding breakfast menu that reflected their favourite foods and their style of hosting. This was going to be the main part of their wedding day.

When looking for a wedding caterer they couldn't find one that was able (or willing) to create their bespoke menu for them, so Jonathan just decided to do it himself. 

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When Jonathan and I discussed this between lectures, we realised there was a gap for a truly bespoke wedding caterer that would literally do whatever the client asked for so we started off by catering for his wedding day. 

Jonathan’s wedding was incredible and everyone had such a great time...and really tasty food - we thought we’d have a go at creating a business from it. I remember us setting up the business through Companies House and pressing “publish” on our first website and it was all so scary, but exciting at the same time!

We went to our first wedding fair and I felt quite overwhelmed and out of my depth, but we were lucky enough to meet our first clients and then we were off and running with our brand new catering business Caviar & Chips!

2. What Does Your Typical Working Day Involve?

Marc Hornby and Jonathan Carter-Morris outside the pub they run called the Virgins and Castle

Our business has changed quite a bit in the last four years. I take the lead as Chief Marketing Officer, or as I sometimes term it “the story-teller”. So my focus is on building our brand and generating business. 

Not only do we have Caviar & Chips the wedding and events catering business, but we also now run a 16th century pub in Warwickshire called The Virgins & Castle, we have an 18th century boutique wedding venue in Shropshire called Stockton House and we’re now working on our next venture which will be a new restaurant in Warwickshire opening in March 2022.

Our team has grown really quickly and we now employ over 60 people that have helped us get to where we are today. We’re expecting to double in team size again in 2022 and planning to recruit more great people to help us be even better again.

In our catering business, Caviar & Chips, we have a residency at a beautiful stately home in Shropshire called Walcot Hall and we’re a preferred caterer of 27 wedding and events venues around the UK. 

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As our business has grown and become more complex, so have our roles and the focus of what we do. I guess the best way to answer this question is for me to remember what I’ve done today as I capture my answers here!

Today I had the day to work from home and get through some of my to-do list. I started the morning replying to new clients at Stockton House. I had viewings at Stockton over the weekend and one of the couples visiting had emailed me to say that they’d love to book their wedding with us which is always a wonderful way to start the day. I always get so excited when someone says they’d like to book us. It feels such a privilege that a couple would want to share one of the most special days of their lives with us and trust us to do a great job for them.

I then had calls with my colleague, Amy, who looks after our marketing and Jamie who leads on social media for our pub The Virgins & Castle. We have a regular call to review social and digital media activity that we’ve delivered and plan forthcoming activity. We then take a long view over the coming months and plan the content, imagery and messages that we’ll be sharing with our audiences.

Amy and I then reviewed our forthcoming campaign activity for Stockton House and Caviar & Chips as we have new offers to share with prospective clients across social and digital media, magazines, press and radio. 

I then had a call with a journalist who wanted to interview us for a piece about the hospitality industry and the impact of COVID-19 and Government announcements. We try to be proactive with press and media and have PR plan that we follow to help our brands be positioned as thought leaders and setting trends.

Jonathan and I then had a call to talk through a new partnership we are working on with a new venue opening in the Cotswolds. We have been invited to tender for the chance to be culinary partners and the tender process is quite a complicated one with lots of paperwork, financial forecasts and governance.

The Caviar and Chips wedding catering team posing outside in their black catering uniforms

I then had a call with my colleagues, Luke, Katie and Julie to talk through forthcoming menu tastings that we have with our Caviar & Chips clients. We have almost 100 menu tastings to deliver over the coming months and every menu is unique so it’s quite in depth coordinating all of the dates, timings and menus. Our menu tastings are a key part of our approach as our clients enjoy a complimentary menu tasting for six people - much like a small dinner party.

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We create the couples’ wedding menu that we’ve been crafting together and they have chance to try everything as it would be on their wedding day. We then re-write all of the recipes based on the couples’ feedback and anything they’d like to change ahead of their big day. Having really clear processes and systems to help us coordinate all of the menus and dates across all of the venues we work with is such an important part of what we do. 

I then had a call with one of our venues where we’re planning an event next week. We talked through timings, format, menus and made sure we had a joined-up plan for the day. One of our core values in our business is “collaboration”. We feel that working together in a supportive way is an important approach and this is as important for our teams as it is for our venues and suppliers we work with. We never feel we can spend enough time planning ahead and making sure we’re always communicating.

I then had a call with our PR agency looking at our recent press and radio activity. We had recently been interviewed on the radio for Stockton House and for The Virgins & Castle. We have some media activity planned to go to press in the next couple of weeks and we reviewed images, quotes and statistics across each of our businesses.

Finally, I had a call with clients planning their wedding with us in August 2022. They live in France and so we were planning how and when we prepare their menu tasting and the kind of dishes they would like to try at their tasting. I really enjoy these calls, especially because our clients can have whatever they want for their menu. Imaginations run wild and we talk about all sorts of possibilities and ideas. Going back to how I started to answer this question - that aspect of storytelling is what I really enjoy. Sharing ideas. Imagining what food and drink will taste like. What the day will be like and hearing the stories of their relationships, friendships and excitement about their wedding day

3. What is it That You Love About Working in Weddings?

Marc Hornby with one of his couples at the building site of their new venue, Stockton House. They all wear high-vis vests and hard hats

There’s so many things I love about weddings. It has to be one of the happiest days in anyone’s life and to be part of that is really exciting! To have a job where you get to go to a wedding (or two) every week is pretty special.

But the thing that I really do love is how the wedding feels like it gives people permission to share how they feel about each other. You see people coming together from all walks of life. Some people are close friends and family and some guests only know a few people, but everyone comes together to share what is essentially a day that celebrates love, friendship and romance.

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I love the way Mums, Dads, brothers, sisters, friends say how they feel about each other. I love the speeches and how a Dad will talk about his son or daughter. How a best man will tell his friend how much he loves his best friend and really values their friendship. I like to imagine that people can say how they feel like this every day, not just on a wedding day. It gives me great warmth when I see and hear people caring for each other in this way.

4. What Do You Find Most Challenging in Your Work?

I think in the work that we do as bespoke caterers this in itself is quite challenging as every menu we do is unique. We set out to always be client-led and this is another of our key values. When we’re not sure what to do or what the answer should be, we start by asking ourselves, what’s the most client-led way of doing this? 

Every week we find new challenges and different requests to which we say “no problem”! We do have some great systems and processes in place to help us manage everything and I feel incredibly lucky to have such amazing people that work with us. Thankfully we spend a lot of time working together and understanding each others’ strengths and preferences. We all know who we can turn to for all manner of challenges and we trust each other implicitly. Another of our values is “positivity”. Even on the most difficult of days we look after each other and know we’ll get through it.

5. What Did the Coronavirus Pandemic Teach You About Your Business?

Marc Hornby giving a talk about his wedding business

Like every business regardless of sector we found the impact of COVID-19 hugely impactful on our business. In the year of lockdown we were set to deliver 120 weddings, but we only delivered two. This meant we had to decide and plan (quickly) how to communicate and look after our clients and work with all of the other suppliers involved. We went back to our values (that I’ve talked about) and this helped us make some great decisions that made sure all of our clients were as happy as possible and that we worked closely with all venues and suppliers involved.

Of course cashflow was a big problem and we weren't eligible for government grants. We were fortunate to be able to leverage the finances across our businesses to keep us going.

We didn't lose anyone from our team and we used our People Strategy to great effect ensuring we communicated regularly and placed great importance on wellbeing and mental health of our colleagues.

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Coming out of lockdown there was huge uncertainty to what we could and couldn't do as a business and our clients were even more confused. We spent a great deal of time with each of our clients reassuring them and working closely with venues to make sure everyone was safe and still able to enjoy the day they had planned.

Recruitment and the COVID-19 "ping app" also played a big part in our summer with many team members being messaged or having to self-isolate due to illness or being at risk of spreading the infection. We got really creative with our team recruitment and worked closely with schools, colleges, universities and other businesses to ensure we could resource every event we had planned to cater for.

Supply chain issues were also non-stop. We had many examples of linen not being available, certain types of crockery, ingredients for menus not being delivered. We had to again get really creative with how and where we sourced everything we needed for each and every wedding. Where we couldn't provide what our clients had ordered we had to advise and manage expectations and offer creative solutions to again make sure they had the day the way they wanted it to be.

I think overall it made me feel so grateful to be in the business I am with the people I am with. Running a business can sometimes feel overwhelming and like a huge responsibility, but I am always able to share my vulnerabilities with people that care for me, our clients and the work that we do. It amazes me.

6. What is Your Advice for Someone Who Wants to Work in Your Field in the Wedding Industry?

Chef Jonathan Carter-Morris of Caviar & Chips shaking hands with a bride and groom on their wedding day

There are so many opportunities in the world of weddings and in our world of hospitality and catering. My first bit of advice would be to not look at the industry with preconceived ideas that you’d either be a chef or a host (we have hosts at Caviar & Chips rather than waiters and waitresses). 

If I think across our businesses, we have people working in Operations, Marketing, Finance and People and Wellbeing. Of course we have lots of amazing chefs and hosts, but it’s not just about being in a kitchen or front of house, it’s about great hospitality and creating a great place to work. 

We recruit new people based primarily on their values, probably more than their experience. Having values that match our culture and ethos is really important to us and will have a great impact on our clients’ experience. I would suggest that someone wanting to work in our field should think about why they want to work here and find a company that is similar. It really is a challenging industry and one that is ever changing. It often means working long hours, unsociable days and in places you’ve sometimes never been! Because of that you need to make sure that it’s somewhere and something that will bring you joy and energy. If you smile and feel energised then not only will you do great things, but you’ll also be happy for you and for those around you.

7. Which Wedding Professionals Inspire You?

There are so many brilliant people in the wedding industry. I love meeting all of the different suppliers that come together to make the day a reality for the happy couple - I really don’t think there’s another industry like it.

Because of that it makes it so hard to pick out any individuals. Hitched of course do an incredible job of informing newly engaged couples planning their big day and inspiring wedding suppliers like me to do what we do. I love the fact that Hitched creates forums for suppliers to share best practice, tips and advice. Again that aspect of collaboration is so important.

I find it amazing when I hear about some businesses that have been operating for over 20+ years. A great example of this is one of our catering hire suppliers Plato Catering Hire. The couple that run it, Stuart & Lynn, helped us with our very first event when we didn’t have a clue what to do or how to do it! I remember that first call to Stuart and he was so patient and supportive with me and I just thought: “you’re a good one to work with”. We’ve been working together for four years now and they’ve seen us grow from that one wedding to now over 120 weddings a year. Their business is behind the scenes and the couple very rarely, if ever, know they’re even part of their day, but the team at Plato look after us and the couple as if they were one of the guests.

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8. What Current Wedding Trend Do You Want to See More Of?

Marc Hornby serving guests at a wedding catered by Caviar & Chips

One of things I’ve enjoyed this last year is seeing weddings take place on every day of the week. With so many postponements in 2020, it meant that 2021 was “doubled-up” and venues hosted weddings Monday through to Sunday. I remember being at some events thinking it was Saturday, but it was Tuesday. It was nice that there was less pressure about it being on the weekend and that time and day didn’t matter, it was more about the occasion and people being in the moment.

We’ve seen a lot more couples celebrate longer too. I think people coming together and making the most of being together, away from home and work and enjoying food and drink together the night before the wedding - whether that’s a BBQ, a tasting menu or cocktails. Then also bringing people back together the day after the wedding for a lazy brunch and sharing stories of the day before.

9. What is Your Favourite Wedding From a Film or TV Programme? 

This might show my age a bit, but my head went straight to the Australian TV show Neighbours with Jason Donavan & Kyle Minogue, or Scott and Charlene in the show. It was all over the news when I was a kid and it felt like the whole of my school were guests at the wedding the amount people talked about it!

I also thought of Four Weddings and a Funeral. Thankfully, we’ve never had to do four weddings and a funeral ourselves, but there was one summer when we had four weddings and a music festival on the same day - that was a busy one!

I think for comedy value, I loved the Vicar of Dibley wedding with Dawn French - she reminds me of my mother-in-law a bit and it’s just a show that always makes me laugh with its simplicity of life and ridiculous situations 

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10. What’s the One Wedding Tradition You Would Ditch and Why?

That’s a tough one as I think traditions can be quite a nice thing. Sometimes we might not quite know why we do them, but there’s something timeless and reassuring about them!

I think one of the things I’m happy to see us moving away from is the gender stereotypes and fixed gender roles on the day. Your best man can be a woman. Same sex marriages. The bride can definitely make a speech. Flower Girls can be Flower Boys. If we come back to what weddings are about - it’s two people coming together to share their love and commit to each other for the rest of their lives. I think however they want to do that is entirely up to them and a phrase that I quite like - do what thou will and harm none.

11. What’s Your Next Ambition for Your Business?

Well Jonathan and I are quite ambitious individually and twice as much as a pair! I’m incredibly grateful that we have a business together and that we’ve made it past day four, let alone year four. We’ve recruited incredible people that are better than us at the jobs they do and it’s remarkable that they’ve joined us on the journey and are helping to shape the next steps of that journey.

I’m really excited about our first wedding venue, Stockton House, opening in 2022. We’re going to have some really beautiful weddings there and couples who have booked with us so far have been wonderful.

We set out a 10 year vision and we’ll certainly plan to grow our business by delivering more bespoke weddings and events. We’ll hopefully work with more fantastic venues that share our approach to delivering perfect weddings for our couples.

We’ll add to our portfolio of pubs and restaurants and maybe even a venue we don’t know about yet.

One thing I am excited about developing is an academy across our businesses that brings in new talented people and helps them create rewarding and enjoyable careers in the world of hospitality, weddings and events. We have students join us on internships, student projects and apprenticeships. We’ve had people join us from complete career changes such as teaching or banking for example. We work so hard on creating a great place to work and creating a culture where people can thrive and be the best version of themselves and for me that’s incredibly rewarding. 

You can find out more about Stockton House here. If you're looking to learn even more about wedding businesses, make sure you read our 11 Questions interview with on-the-day coordinator and Weddings Taskforce member Nina Beer