Day in the life: Head of catering operations

Kamil Khoury is head of operations (catering), catering services, for Imperial College London. He tells UB about his typical day

What is it about your job that gets you out of bed in the morning?

Every day is different, and I know there will always be a fresh challenge waiting for me as soon as I step into the office. Right now, I’m loving the challenge of refreshing and modernising the kind of things we’re doing at Imperial – ranging from vegan restaurants to instant ice-cream machines, there’s always something new that can be done. My main priority is making sure our staff and students are happy with the food offering at Imperial – it’s my job to think of new ways of making this happen.

What is the first thing you do when you get into work?

We begin with coffee and porridge – nothing else would be possible without that. I do a morning round, saying hello to the team and seeing how everyone is. 

I check my diary, which at the moment is filled with an exciting refurbishment on campus. We’re bringing in a coffee brand to Imperial, which is taking up a lot of my time as we get ready for opening later this year.

Who are the two to three people that you talk to every day?

Tony Shepherd, our executive chef – without him, our food doesn’t go out. Tony brings endless creativity to how we approach catering and in that sense, I think we’re a great partnership. I also speak to my operational managers to check if they need any support on the ground. Of course, I’m always speaking to campus services director Jane Neary.

What is the best thing about your job?

Seeing (and hearing) the reactions when we introduce something new on campus – you never know which way it’s going to swing. I love the excitement of seeing an idea that begins as a doodle on a napkin, that then quickly involves 20 or 30 other contributors and, before you know it, it comes to fruition. It’s so rewarding to see a tangible result to your work and (hopefully) the students and staff enjoying it.

What is your biggest challenge/gripe?

I’m very much a ‘now’ person. I like to get everything done as soon as possible. However, there is a lot I’ve learned about the process it takes from having an idea to actually making something happen, which is that everything takes time and patience (something I have little of). We’re all always learning – I had to learn that universities operate in a different way to anywhere else but that’s something I appreciate and work with now.

How did you get into your job?

I think I’ve done every possible role within catering at this point – I began by washing pots and pans and I think it turned out okay from there. I’ve worked as a chef at GlaxoSmithKline, a restaurant manager, an operational manager and an operations director – working at a university wasn’t something I expected, but I’m loving the new environment and new ways of working. 

What is it about your personality that makes you suitable for your role?

Having experienced so many roles myself, I’m good at adapting how I communicate with my team at all levels. I can be assertive when speaking with management but relaxed with one of our chefs. I don’t consider myself as being too bossy – I actually think I’m quite laid back. In my role, I have to be open to hearing different ideas on how we can improve and I feel that people can always approach me with their suggestions and ideas.

Which five words sum up your typical day?

Fast-paced; new challenges; intense.

If you weren’t in this role, what would you be? 

An operations director in catering, or a managing director. 

Kamil Khoury has been head of catering operations for Imperial College London since October 2018. He oversees the food and drink operation for Imperial’s 17,000 students and 8,000 staff. As well as ensuring everybody is well-fed, Kamil also manages the development of innovative new catering outlets and strategies.

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