The Berkeley Drive Thru’
When the gravity of Covid-19 hit and The Berkeley was forced to close, they decided to turn their attentions to how they could support the London emergency services and their neighbours, as well as how to best look after their staff. psd’s Lesley Reynolds talks to Knut Wylde, GM of the Berkeley about their drive-thru initiative.
How was the idea of the Drive Thru for Key Workers borne?
The 2020 forecast at The Berkeley was promising, but of course COVID 19 was just around the corner. When the gravity of the situation hit, and we were forced to close, we turned our attentions – usually devoted to our guests – to how we could support the London emergency services, how we could support our neighbours, and how to best look after our staff.
The Berkeley 999 Drive Thru was born within a matter of days and throughout the first lockdown we were serving 500 meals each and every day to the fire brigade, police, ambulance teams, and even local street cleaners – anyone who was doing their bit in keeping London safe. 250 meals were also made and delivered daily to the vulnerable and elderly in the local community, in partnership with Westminster Council. Our amazing team, most of whom were furloughed, volunteered to play their part and man the entrance serving food and giving words of encouragement. A different kind of hospitality for us, but hospitality just the same. We have continued to run our Drive Thru daily throughout lockdowns 2 and 3, and in between, committed to run it on the first Wednesday of every month forever more – we call the emergency services our ‘forever VIPS’.
From a practical standpoint, what are some of the challenges you and your team had to overcome in launching and delivering your drive thru’ offering? How many visits were you achieving per day and have you adapted the product along the way?
We produced 50,000 hot meals throughout the first lockdown. As cafes and coffee shops began to open more, and quick food pickups were made so much easier for the emergency service teams, we altered our offering in lockdowns 2 and 3 slightly to hot soups at lunch and snacks and hot drinks throughout the day. We have been overwhelmed and so humbled by donations for the Drive Thru – local food halls, neighbours, businesses. We were receiving such incredible donations but there was a point where food was arriving with no warning, and all at once. The last thing we wanted was for food to be wasted so we set about to put a system in place whereby donators were encouraged to get in touch first, and we would manage these generous donations to be spread out.
You have benefitted from phenomenal exposure and positive PR as a result of this initiative. Can you describe some of this and what do you see as the knock on benefit to the Berkeley as a result?
We have never seen this as a PR initiative and that was super important to us – we simply wanted to serve our heroes. The only way we communicated this service was via social media with the main reason being of letting the emergency services know where we were and how we could help and to manage the support from companies who wanted to help.
Of course, along the way, as you say, press have heard about the Drive Thru and have supported and spread the word. What we’ve noticed most of all is the amazing response from the public – our guests, our suppliers, our neighbours, Londoners further afield and entirely new audiences who may not have visited us before. The Drive Thru has been a wonderful way to keep us engaged with our staff and has allowed us to have a voice when the hotel has been closed. I believe that the support we’ve seen both physically and online will be reflected once we reopen. Forbes acknowledged our work with an award which was of course a huge honour.
Can you shed some light on the impact on your employees and of their contribution?
Furlough is certainly taxing on overall well-being and mental health. We saw our staff come back to life with the arrival of the Drive Thru, turning up with huge smiles on their faces (very typical of The Berkeley team) and new invigoration. It has been so wonderful to see.
We’ve noticed some of our team completely transform – Kestus, our dutiful night porter was itching to get back to work, seeing The Berkeley as his home. He is naturally a quiet character yet was the first to volunteer to man the front steps. He felt a huge sense of duty and wanted to work as many shifts as possible. Kestus has consistently put his hand up first to work. He is a firm favourite with the emergency service teams, he engages with each and every person who comes through the drive thru (and the police horses!) and the level of attention to detail and service he has demonstrated has been outstanding. He remembers exact coffee orders of returning individuals, and the warm and welcoming spirit of The Berkeley exudes from him.
In a similar vein, the local Belgravia community must have been supportive – what has the impact been locally?
The Belgravia community has been fantastic. The donations, the offer of help to work – we’ve been blown away by the support. One neighbour frequently visits to give our staff treats as a way of keeping them going. We have always played a very active role in our community but I certainly think the Drive Thru has only increased this. To be named ‘Local hero’ in the Belgravia Awards meant a lot as it is our neighbours who have nominated us.
What has been your favourite magic moment or positive surprise?
There are several – ones I will never forget. The visits from police teams who have made us commemorative shields, the first time we saw police horses approaching the Drive Thru (we’ve had apples on standby ever since!) and of course the letters and emails of thanks we have received have blown us away. One particular message was from a mother of an ambulance worker who lived in Cornwall and was worried for her daughter in London and how she was going to get food. She thanked us and it meant so much to know that we were easing someone’s anxiety.
General Manager, The Berkeley
Knut, originally from Germany, is a well-respected hotelier with a career spanning the globe from Europe to the Caribbean, Middle East and Asia within the luxury sector for nearly 30 years. Before his appointment to General Manager of The Berkeley in February 2016, Knut was Hotel Manager at Claridge’s and previously worked at some of the most iconic London properties such as The Lanesborough and The Savoy. Additionally, he has held senior roles with One&Only Resorts, Rosewood Hotels and the Dorchester Collection. With this wealth of experience and his commitment to the hospitality industry, Knut brings an energetic and fresh approach to hotel management as well as a true understanding of luxury in both product and service.
Knut is a Master Innholder, Fellow of the Institute of Hospitality and sits on the Board of Governors of The Royal Academy of Culinary Arts. Previously he served as President of The Savoy Gastronomes and President of the AICR. In 2020 he was named as one of the 50 Most Influential People in British Luxury on the Walpole Power List.
Married to his wife Imina they have two daughters and in his spare time Knut enjoys travel, fine food and wines and is a keen golfer.