Young Apprentice: Fifty Shades of (Earl) Grey

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We reached the halfway point of Young Apprentice with this fourth episode of the season, as the two teams were challenged to provide a themed afternoon tea service at Blenheim Palace. Trouble was soon brewing for Platinum at their Mad Hatter’s Tea Party, while Odyssey tried to have their cake and eat it with their premium-priced 1940s-themed alternative. But for project manager Alice Smith the challenge turned out to be anything but Alice in Wonderland, as she took a tumble down the rabbit-hole and became the fourth candidate to leave the competition courtesy of Lord Sugar’s Digit of Doom™. Mind you, “You’re fired” didn’t seem like such a bad alternative compared to “Off with her head!”

Putting on the Ritz?

“I’ve won every week so far.” Oh dear. Alice applied the kiss of death to herself (image courtesy of bbc.co.uk)

It’s 6am at the Apprenti-Mansion™ and an almost fully dressed Steven Cole answers the phone and informs the others that they are to meet Sugar at the Cutty Sark. Not one of our Teenage Tycoons of Tomorrow™ seems to know what it is, though. (And no, it’s not somewhere you can buy a candelabrum.) En route, David Belotelli™ Odhiambo notes that he has a 100% track record of being in the boardroom, while Alice smugly comments that she has won every week so far. Which pretty much gives away the result immediately, doesn’t it?

At the Cutty Sark, Sugar asks the teams to revamp the traditional British afternoon tea, with the team making the most profit winning. There’s no Apprenti-Shuffle™ this week, but he does nominate the two project managers himself. It’s David for Platinum, leading Steven, Ashleigh Porter-Exley and Lucy Beauvallet, while Alice takes charge of Andrew Tindall, Maria Doran, Navdeep Bual and Patrick McDowell for Odyssey.

While David quickly offers up the not exactly innovative idea of a Mad Hatter’s Tea Party, Alice wants to stick with something quintessentially British to pull in the tourists. They come up with the idea of a luxury 1940s tea party, conveniently forgetting that most of Britain spent the whole of that decade either being bombed by the Germans or on rations. Maria in particular seems unlikely to become a professional historian, asking first:

What’s something that’s famous for being British?

Well, how about the Cutty Sark for starters? Having thrown in her starter for ten, her first bonus question is:

Was the Queen the queen in 1940?

Well, let’s see. This entire season was shot during mid-2012. Which some people might have noticed was also the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee year. You do the maths.

In contrast to Odyssey’s high-end positioning, Platinum go against their name by opting for a cost-conscious approach. With their value proposition and theme decided, both teams split up and set to work, with half conducting market research while the others sample teas.

Lucy and Steven’s research concludes that people will eat brightly coloured food – no, really? – while Maria, Andrew and Navdeep initially forget what questions they are supposed to ask. After assailing various passers-by on Oxford Street, they determine that most people would willingly pay £5-£10 for afternoon tea, while two individuals with slightly more expensive tastes claim they would happily cough up £25 or even £30 a head – from which Maria extrapolates that £25 is a reasonable price to set. Incidentally, afternoon tea at the Ritz – which is about as expensive as you can get – starts at £42, while the price of admission at Blenheim is £20. Or £5 less than Maria wants to charge for a cup of PG Tips and a fondant fancy. After a pleasant couple of hours spent enjoying the high life sharing high tea with Patrick, Alice eventually phones her sub-team and (rightly) baulks at Maria’s advice, eventually settling on a still pricey £16.

Ashleigh was typically cost-conscious – rarely a bad move in profit-based tasks (image courtesy of bbc.co.uk)

Over on Team Platinum, the ever thrifty Ashleigh – the project manager who was against washing second-hand clothes in the opening task, remember – is again focussed on keeping costs down, while PM David blindly goes along with everything she suggests, including her recommendation of cut-price sandwich fillings such as jam and cheese and banana and chocolate spread. Classy. Still, at least she doesn’t suggest spam fritters – which, on the basis of the candidates’ grasp of history, they would probably think are another name for dodgy emails anyway. At £7 per head, at least their offer is affordable.

The sub-teams are dispatched to bakeries to make cakes. Steven and Lucy – who runs her own cake business – are particularly impressive, concocting a variety of colourful confections befitting their Mad Hatter theme. For Odyssey Andrew, who makes and sells his own desserts, directs the manufacture of more traditional fare.

Chaos versus order

Day two sees the teams decamping to Blenheim to set up their themed marquees in the morning, ready for their afternoon tea service. As the birthplace of Winston Churchill, Blenheim is Britain’s best known and most prestigious stately home. Or as Maria says as they roll into the grounds in their Apprenti-Carrier™:

Flip me, this is posh.

I bet that wasn’t what she said on the first take.

Service is very much the buzzword for Alice, as her team gets themselves well organised with a focus on smart presentation, while Andrew has the kitchen set up efficiently.

David was the PM here, although you’d have been hard pressed to tell (image courtesy of bbc.co.uk)

Organised and efficient are not words you would use to describe Platinum’s efforts, however, as it quickly becomes apparent that the only thing David is ever going to win is the award for the Worst Project Manager Evah™. There’s no structure, no direction and David, despite his Mad Hatter’s costume, is clearly better suited to the role of the Dormouse – or perhaps a headless chicken – as he seems completely oblivious to the chaos around him. Outside their marquee a long queue forms while inside tables are empty. Orders are forgotten and take forever to be delivered to customers. Basically, service is non-existent. And then David comes up with the bright idea of laying out picnic blankets outside to increase throughput beyond their capacity to serve, resulting in tea being served to customers in bowls. He’s not so much a Mad Hatter as a Certifiably Insane one. However, inexplicably, the punters keep rolling in.

Things are going less well at Odyssey, despite their more professional operation. After an early rush, the flow of customers soon slows to a trickle, no doubt put off by the high prices. Alice sends Navdeep and Maria out to Blenheim’s train station to drum up business. Only they can’t find it and return empty-handed, forcing a last-minute slashing of prices to £7 in a desperate attempt to rake in the cash.

Boardroom Brouhaha™

In the boardroom, Platinum are praised for their rather splendid cakes but David comes under heavy fire for his poor – make that ‘utter lack of’ – organisation. Alice tries to explain away the incongruence of their 1940s theme, claiming Odyssey was trying to replace rations with luxury. She is criticised for poor communication and indecision on the first day of the task, but receives good reviews for her handling of the second day. Overall the mood in her team is largely positive. Even from Maria.

That mood soon changes, however, once the results are revealed. Odyssey made a profit, but a relatively small one of £91 from sales of £375, having spent an extravagant £284. Penny-pinching Platinum, on the other hand, kept a tighter lid on their expenses (£158) while also succeeding in generating more sales (£474). As a result, their final profit of £316 was more than triple that of Odyssey. In spite of – as opposed to because of – his leadership, David is finally a winner.

As a treat, Platinum are ferried off to the London Aquarium to go swimming with sharks. No, I don’t mean David’s teammates – I mean real sharks. Insert your own joke here. As a metaphor, it’s the gift that keeps on giving. Steven isn’t wrong when he states:

David was a little bit lucky … it was a shambles, basically.

That’s putting it kindly.

For Odyssey, of course, it is a tea party of a different kind at the Cafe of Broken Dreams™. And in the style of the Boston Tea Party, Alice’s team must decide who needs to be thrown overboard.

Maria was annoyed – just for a change (image courtesy of bbc.co.uk)

Back in front of Lord Sugar the team – and baker Andrew in particular – gets a pasting for the fact they spent more than twice as much on preparing their cakes and ending up with a vastly inferior-looking product. Alice comes under fire for her confused direction. Sugar identifies the high price as a key factor, with Nick pointing out that Maria was vehement in pushing for an even higher price than they ended up with. Eventually Alice nominates Maria and Navdeep to face the final elimination with her, a choice which leaves Maria demanding to know, Jedi Jim Eastwood style, the justification for her inclusion, before sulking and pulling a variety of stroppy “how could you?” faces to let her displeasure be known. (Remember, this was the girl who slapped Andrew down last week for being ‘immature’.)

As the three teens wait outside for Sugar to confer with Karren Brady and Nick Hewer, the man in the middle observes that “Maria is very feisty, isn’t she?” for which he receives this week’s Statement of the Blahhdy Obvious Award™. And liquid nitrogen is a bit cold, Alan.

Brought back in, having removed her foot from her mouth Maria seems determined to shoot herself in said foot. Having already told Alice “I’m not going to shout over you” as she shouted over her, she adds:

I need to calm down … because I know I’m actually going to get very angry here.

Just for a change. It does no good, though, as all three girls end up shouting over each other in the sort of display that usually has Karren bemoaning what this says about women in business. Budding politician Navdeep – and let’s hope that Nadine Dorries isn’t one of her role models – gets drawn into jeopardy when Alice makes the valid point that she’s a good presenter but not really a businesswoman. Maria babbles on about how incredibly passionate she is. But Sugar ultimately fires Alice because of her poor business logic in leading the task.

In the Riches-To-Rags Roller™, a rueful Alice opines:

The other two girls maybe don’t have the entrepreneurial spirit within them. However they believed in themselves a lot more than I did, and that is never, never going to happen again.

Did Sugar get it right?

For once, it’s difficult to identify who should have been fired, not least because Odyssey actually got a lot more things right in this task than Platinum, led by the inept David, did. Or at least they did if you are attempting to measure the task by any kind of real world yardstick. The team was criticised for the poor fit between its luxury positioning and the 1940s theme, but I seriously doubt that had much bearing on the outcome of the task. Pricing was the bigger issue: at £20 per adult, Blenheim is not a cheap day out to begin with and £16 for afternoon tea represented poor value for money by comparison. Having previously expressed reservations over the price – she originally wanted a less unreasonable (but still over-priced) £12 – Alice failed to correct the error quickly enough. And once their marquee emptied, that proved a further disincentive to potential customers. If an eatery is empty, it suggests there’s something wrong with it and that is enough to deter most passers-by.

As such, coupled with her lack of direction and control on day one, it was probably fair for Sugar to fire Alice – although the vast majority of viewers online after the episode disagreed – not least because it was hard to pin anything on either Maria or Navdeep. But I think it’s also fair to say that candidates have performed much worse on tasks – ahem, David, Patrick – and survived. Had Platinum lost, there is no question that David would have had to go. Sugar himself stated that this task hinged on organisational skills. In that respect Alice’s leadership – during one of the more difficult tasks the candidates will have to tackle – was mediocre, but David’s was non-existent.

Above all, this task – like many other Apprentice tasks – was won by the team which followed the tried and trusted strategy of focussing on cost to the exclusion of everything else. Platinum had the worse of the two project managers, their cheap and cheerful approach was as far off kilter as Odyssey’s pricing was – although Lucy’s cakes looked fantastic – and their service was appalling. In the real world their ‘business’ wouldn’t have lasted a week. But of course an Apprentice task is by its very nature a one-off and does not have the same key success factors one would have if you were trying to set up a going concern. Cheap tat almost always trumps quality when building a reputation and generating repeat business are not a factor. It’s not necessarily the message you want to send out to aspiring young entrepreneurs, is it? But there you go. Alice is gone and David is a very lucky boy whose days are surely numbered now.

Next week: The teams must come up with a concept for a new kids’ club for five to eight-year olds and pitch it to generate licensed sales. I’m having a flashback to Azhar’s shorts and the Groove Train …

Young Apprentice continues on BBC1 on Thursday at 8pm. Full recaps will be posted here after every episode.

Link: BBC Young Apprentice website

Young Apprentice season 3:

Preview

Rags to riches

Cookery book

Theatre props