Colin Prentice is the support services manager for Compass Group-owned Eurest Services at Stormont, Belfast, which is the home of the Northern Ireland Assembly. He spoke to Chris Druce about the unique challenges of catering in the Province.
Caterer How long have you worked at Stormont?
Colin Prentice I've been here for around 12 years, firstly in-house and then for Compass since it won the catering deal in March 2007.
Caterer What services does Eurest Services provide?
CP We serve, on average, more than 1,100 meals a day, and we clean although as the building, which opened in 1921, is listed, we don't replace anything. We also provide portering and vending. I have 51 staff on my catering team, 10 casual banqueting staff and 23 housekeepers. We have 70,000 visitors a year, many of whom are school groups, so energy drinks, chewing gum and red wine [for events and evening receptions] keep my team of housekeepers busy protecting the marble floor in the Central Hall. There are many political meetings and 108 Assembly members to look after [with two members' restaurants and a bar].
Caterer Have security checks been stepped up in the wake of the recent terrorist murders?
CP All employees have to be security vetted by the local police, which takes 2-3 weeks. We are all very disappointed at the recent attacks. Security is still as it was, and we feel comfortable that the peace we have experienced will continue.
Caterer Are there any political sensitivities?
CP Yes. Emblems of the UK and Ireland are forbidden, so we're not allowed to use any flags at point of sale in the restaurant. Promotions such as "Best of British" or "Taste of Ireland" are off the menu. On one occasion a garland of flowers was put up in the building and it was only later that we realised they were lilies, which are a symbol of the Easter Rising among nationalists. We took them down rather quickly. For the same reason poppies are not allowed, as they are regarded as representing the UK establishment.
Caterer Which dignitary has impressed you most?
CP Mo Mowlem, former Northern Ireland Secretary, was impressive and very down-to-earth. She loved her Marmite sandwiches and told us the vitamin B made her hair grow. She returned to the building years later to have a painting done, and got me to send as many staff up to her as possible so she could thank them for looking after her when she was secretary of state.
Caterer What have been the most memorable events?
CP The Pavarotti concert in 1999 was magnificent, with 20,000 concert buffs in the estate. We laid on a lavish banquet, at which the great man was present. He was most charming and spoke to all the staff and even gave a bellow of Nessun Dorma at the dinner. The visit of President Bill Clinton and hosting the Irish leg of the World Rally Championship in 2007 also stand out.