Jonathan Parker is director of food and beverage at Ascot Racecourse in Berkshire. He tells Katherine Alano how he ensures that the thousands of guests who visit each day have an experience to remember
You joined Ascot 18 months ago. Can you tell us about your role and what it involves?
I oversee all the food and beverage, cleaning and waste operations. We are constantly looking to develop the F&B offering, to not only enhance the raceday experience, but for our conference and events business as well.
What challenges do you face during race days?
The sheer scale of the operation means there are many logistical challenges. We recruit 4,000 temporary staff and we serve over 3,000 individual menu items on a daily basis during Royal Ascot. Then there is the enormous task of cleaning the site ready for racing the following day. We welcome an average of 60,000 visitors per day, totalling 300,000 across the five days.
The Royal Meeting in June is the highlight of the racing calendar. How does catering for Royal Ascot differ from the other race days?
There are exceptionally high expectations from a very diverse client demographic. Putting this into perspective, we need to ensure that we have tea, coffee and a bacon sandwich ready for the stable team at dawn all the way through to providing some of the best hospitality in the world for our distinguished guests in the Royal Enclosure, with everything else in between.
Ascot has joined forces with some top restaurant chefs to offer fine-dining choices. Tell us more about it
Adam Handling makes his Royal Ascot debut at the Balmoral – a brand new restaurant concept that combines the traditional values of Royal Ascot with a more contemporary, fine-dining style of service to the Royal Enclosure Gardens.
We also have two-Michelin-starred chef Simon Rogan joining the line-up with a superbly situated restaurant in the Royal Enclosure Gardens to bring a taste of his incredibly successful Roganic concept to the racecourse.
Raymond Blanc, Phil Howard and James Tanner are all returning to Ascot this year too.
What type of food can the race-goers expect?
We serve the finest seafood and lobster rolls, great steak, sumptuous sandwiches and sharing platters, as well as Ascot favourites, such as fish and chips and cheese on toast. Our Champagne afternoon tea is incredibly popular; we serve it to more than 10,000 people a day.
New for 2018, Ascot’s executive chef Gemma Amor and head chef Ben Dutson will introduce the Royal Ascot Afternoon Tea menu to the Parade Ring Restaurant, designed in collaboration with celebrated pastry chef Claire Clark.
Drink is a very important part of the experience. Do guests have a favourite tipple?
Champagne and Pimm’s are still the favourites, but we have seen an increase in demand for cocktails. We’ve introduced bars such as the Juniper Garden Gin Bar and developed Ascot’s very own Royal Blush cocktail – a blend of Beefeater London dry gin, rhubarb syrup, lemonade, a lemon wedge and fresh raspberries.
What makes Ascot so special?
The Ascot experience is elegant, uplifting and original in every aspect, and that is what makes our guests return time and time again, embracing what is truly British racing and a social occasion.