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Easy Ryder?

03 October 2002 by
Easy Ryder?

For the organisers, this Ryder Cup was always going to be an edgy affair - a year late after being postponed in the days following the events of 11 September. The sub-machine gun toting SWAT teams and airport-style security may look out of place on a golf course, but no one wanted to leave anything to chance.

Ensuring as many as 35,000 golf fans get fed and watered each day is the task of Paul Vesper, event director of Payne & Gunter, Compass Group's event food service and hospitality arm.

With public food courts open from 6am, Vesper's day started at 4.45am, making sure every outlet has a manager in place by 5am. "The Belfry is in the Warwickshire countryside, miles from public transport and we have struggled to get staff on to the site for 5am. Everyone has to pitch in if we're a bit thin on the ground," he says. "I was serving Little Chef breakfasts this morning at 6am."

At 7.20am Vesper updates his managers on the day's menus, customer comments from the previous day and discusses laying on mobile snack bars at the coach park bays for tonight. On the previous evening the decision of 40 bus drivers to knock off at 6pm left thousands of fans at the park and ride pick-up point for three hours so he doesn't want to see them go hungry if it happens tonight.

It's 10am and Vesper is on the third of the six tours of the 23 venues under his control that he will make before he knocks off for the night. He is not just responsible for catering for the 4,540 hospitality guests and more than 30,000 members of the public, but also the police, ticketing staff, members of the Professional Golf Association, the players' caddies, security guards, 800 media and his own staff. The players are eating in the course hotel.

Then it's a nimble walk over to the 18th Green Hospitality suite for a briefing with the US Secret Service, where staff there are being told they will be serving former American president George Bush Senior. Vesper has known for weeks, but for everyone else, this revelation goes some way to explaining the massive security on the site.

Executive chef Phil Stocken will be cooking for the former president, but for the unfazed Stocken he is just another VIP.

Stocken's day started at 1am, and he will be going until 11pm. "The main problem is the time getting the supplies in through the really tight security," he says.

Vesper deals directly with the 160 managers on site. Sixty per cent of them are full-time Compass employees. "There was no problem finding people who wanted to cover the Ryder Cup," Vesper says. "Lots of staff have been dying to cover it for ages."

Growing queues By 11am the first rounds of golf are finishing and crowds of customers are flooding into the public food hall. Queues are already beginning to grow at the tills and Vesper is making sure staff direct the crowds towards the less busy outlets. The biggest wave hits at midday, however, when Tiger Woods finishes his round.

The Champagne and seafood bar is a high-profit outlet so Vesper stays here for most of lunch, acting as maitre d' and directing people to tables. He sends a junior manager, Toby, down the queue with a magnum of Moët and glasses, selling Champagne.

The menu includes a starter of seafood chowder with rustic breads (£4.50), with salmon, mussels and prawns in cream and tarragon sauce (£16) or seafood platter of marinated prawns, smoked salmon, smoked trout, mackerel and Italian seafood (£18) as mains.

Meanwhile, back of house, 17-year-old Matt Szlachcic is enthusiastically plating up seafood platters. He is just one of 350 NVQ students from catering colleges from as far afield as Henley and Sheffield on site today. "We have to get up at 4am every day and it's extremely tiring," says Szlachcic, who is clearly getting a buzz out of being at such a high-profile event. "But I am really enjoying it - I just want to become a chef and become famous, like everyone else does."

"It's all part of our graduate recruitment programme," says human resources manager Jacky Isaac. "We bring the students down with their lecturers, who also work on site with them. Before the event we send our chefs into the colleges to talk through with the students the specifications of the menu and why we have chosen it."

At 12.40pm Vesper is called over by the people from Ryder Cup Ltd to "be around just in case" while ex-president Bush has his lunch.

By 1.30pm it's time for another quick tour by Vesper. "I like to go in through front of house at the corporate hospitality suites to see what impression the clients are getting," says Vesper as he asks a member of staff to move a crate of glasses out of public view. Vesper's keen eye is pleased to see that most people are now on to dessert and coffee.

"Back of house the warning signs are shouting, queues at hotplates and washing up starting to pile up. Front of house I am looking to see what is on the tables and whether the clients seem happy," says Vesper, who is pleased to hear the village suites served 2,500 main courses in 25 minutes.

Its 2.05pm and on to the Brabazon Suite where corporate hospitality in private rooms and chalet suites runs to £1,000 a head. Lunch is over, and half of the tables are already laid for afternoon tea at 4pm, after which the kitchens are wound down and cleaned up.

With the bar finally closing down at 9pm, Vesper will be one of the last to leave at 9.45pm, with the prospect of a couple of pints and reflection on an action-packed day in which his team of 1,200 have worked like clockwork - and on the fact that, not a million miles away, the Europe golf team have done rather well.

Once in a lifetime?

The Ryder Cup is a "one off" event in that it alternates between Europe and the USA every two years. It will next return to Europe in 2006.

Payne & Gunter's turnover for the four-day event is £2m. It serves 4,540 covers to corporate guests in hospitality complexes, paying up to £1,000 a head.

Payne & Gunter employs more than 1,200 staff for the event, of which 350 are students at catering colleges.

More than 35,000 people are expected at the event each day. On the first day of play Payne & Gunter sold 5,500 rounds of sandwiches, 4,500 bacon and sausage baps, 3,700 portions of Harry Ramsden's fish and chips, 1,400 portions of burger and chips, 800 pizzas, 1,000 full English breakfasts, 4,665 chocolate bars and 431 bags of sweets.

It takes two-and-a-half weeks to set up for the event and three days to dismantle it.

Payne & Gunter is responsible for all the catering at the event. Public catering includes two food courts featuring brands such as Harry Ramsden's, Trattoria, Ritazza, Maison Blanc and Little Chef, the 19th Hole - the main bar, a Champagne and seafood bistro, four on-course units offering sacks and hot and cold drinks.

Corporate hospitality complexes include restaurants, private chalets and corporate suites.

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Jacobs Media Group is honoured to be the recipient of the 2020 Queen's Award for Enterprise.

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