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The Caterer

Feeding the stars – more trouble than it's worth?

21 June 2007
Feeding the stars – more trouble than it's worth?

The last week has seen some of this year's biggest society bashes, as Michelin-starred chef Tom Aikens and four top England footballers tied the knot in a series of high-profile weddings.

But as the rich and famous flocked to venues such as Cliveden and Stapleford Park to celebrate, behind-the-scenes caterers were frantically working to run a smooth show. While it's obviously a great showcase for any operator to organise such an event, there are numerous additional challenges involved in catering for the celebrity market.

High-profile events

Mark Fuller, founder of nightclub and restaurant group Embassy, which caters regularly at high-profile events including the 2005 Live 8 concert in London's Hyde Park, said the most important thing was flexibility. "Each event is different, and it really depends on who you're dealing with. While some celebrities are fantastic clients, others are a complete nightmare as they've lost all sense of reality," he said.

"The most important thing is to be flexible and uphold your reputation as you land most of this type of contract through verbal recommendations."

This was echoed by Lena Björck, managing director of Inn or Out, which has catered for events including the Queen's 80th birthday and banquets at the White House.

"People know a lot about catering these days, and good service simply isn't good enough," she said. "You have to overdeliver, provide personal service and offer an experience that people will remember.

"If you impress highly influential clients with your service, they're bound to recommend you to their friends."

Jason Atherton, chef-director at London's Michelin-starred restaurant Maze, agreed. Responsible for David and Victoria Beckham's star-studded pre-World Cup party last summer, he said meeting guests' expectations was vital. "The Gordon Ramsay name is such a well-known brand that we really had to make sure we delivered the high standards the guests were expecting, as your name is on the line," Atherton added.

However, not all guests will be interested in the catering, and Björck said the most frustrating factor was when the food wasn't even touched. "At a lot of the celebrity events, the glamorous women are so obsessed with looking great that they don't touch the food," she said. "It breaks my heart because we put so much effort into creating a truly outstanding menu that it's upsetting to see these women don't appreciate any of it."

But food is just one aspect of organising a successful event, and front-of-house service needs to run as smoothly as possible without staff losing their cool around the stars.

"You have to make sure the staff concentrate on the job and don't get overly excited about the audience they're serving," said Atherton. "At the Beckhams' event we had people like Robbie Williams coming into the kitchen to have a look around, so you have to keep a close eye on your team and ensure they don't lose their concentration."

Training staff in discretion is one of the most vital aspects when it comes to celebrity catering, according to Damian Clarkson, director of Red Snapper Events. "All our clients, no matter how high profile, want to relax and enjoy their special event and not be put on the stage at their own party," he said. "We have to ensure their needs are met and simply cannot afford to be indiscreet. If anything gets out and is linked back to one of your members of staff, you'll lose your contract and with it your reputation. You have to be able to trust your staff implicitly."

Security is another key issue, and while the level of safety will vary from event to event, it can be one of the most challenging aspects. "In terms of security, each event is different, and depending on who you're dealing with, rules and regulations can be extremely tight," said Björck.

Confidentiality

"When you're catering for the royal family or political leaders, there are passport controls, security and background checks and often a contract of confidentiality has to be signed."

But despite all the extra work involved, Alessandro Fasoli, F&B operations manager at Cliveden, Berkshire, which hosted Manchester United captain Gary Neville's wedding last weekend, said these events provided a great opportunity for creativity.

"It's so important to have a ‘can-do-anything' attitude," he said. "We've arranged helicopters and fireworks, and snowballs and ice-skating in midsummer. It's a great chance to be creative and make dreams come true."

If you're well prepared and have enough trained staff to pull these events off, they're not only great fun to arrange, but also a good source of publicity and word of mouth-driven revenue.

Five top tips when catering for celebrities

  • Flexibility
  • Security
  • Confidentiality and discretion
  • Exceeding expectations
  • Focused staff
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