Naysayers regularly bemoan the cost of the 2012 Olympic Games (currently estimated at £9.3b) or the apparent lack of organisation, with one satirical website suggesting the entire operation be outsourced to China as a "mutually beneficial solution". But preparations for the event are well under way, with hospitality and catering at the centre of planning.
Last month saw the launch of a hospitality and catering training centre on the Olympic Park's doorstep in Hackney, which aims to run 600 courses in the run-up to 2012. The school, housed within Hackney Community College, offers students the chance to work in a new restaurant while studying for NVQs, and aims to help bridge the skills gap ahead of the Olympics. The London Development Agency (LDA) spent £800,000 funding the centre, which has 20 stainless-steel workstations modelled on a modern commercial kitchen.
The opening ceremony was attended by celebrity chef Paul Rankin, who gave a cookery demonstration, and Geoff Newton, director of Olympic opportunities at the LDA. Newton spoke of the "enormous demand" for suitably qualified staff from the hospitality and catering industry in the run-up to 2012. He said the experience offered by the centre's restaurant was "to die for".
The London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games (LOCOG) last week outlined the catering needs of the estimated 18 million people who will pass through the Olympic village's doors during the Games.
LOCOG said it was six to eight weeks from knowing its "precise procurement and food strategy", but it was clear about the importance of healthy eating and sustainability. David Stubbs, head of sustainability at LOCOG, said healthy food options and water would be readily available at the Games and there would be a promotion of healthy eating before 2012.
At face value, the choice of the three official sponsors - McDonald's, Cadbury and Coca-Cola, which have exclusive rights to all food and beverages sold within the Park - seems to conflict with the healthy eating message, but Stubbs expects just 20% of the beverages sold to be fizzy drinks, whereas 50% will be water and 30% fruit juice. And although McDonald's will be the only branded restaurant provider for the Games - it could have 100% of the facilities under the terms of its contract - Stubbs is quick to point out that there will be other, unbranded catering providers "offering a range of food styles".
Food safety and security will also be imperative, says Stubbs, with operators having to follow both Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point guidelines and those outlined separately by LOCOG and the International Olympic Committee. In China, which hosted the 2008 Paralympic Games, the InterContinental Qingdao hotel has warned that the regulations are complex and laborious.
LOCOG has also set up a Food Advisory Board, whose members include the British Hospitality Association, the Food and Drink Federation, the Food Standards Agency and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, to create a food strategy for the Games, which will be published "later this year". The board will meet for the first time in the next few weeks and then every eight weeks to map out strategy.
The London Development Agency has launched a consultation process - the London Tourism Action Plan 2009-13](http://www.lda.gov.uk/upload/doc/London_Tourism_Action_Plan_0913_final_consultation_draft.DOC) - to let the capital's tourism industry have its say on plans to tackle the economic downturn and capitalise on opportunities in the run-up to the Olympics. Plans include helping to increase good-quality accommodation and working with the service industry to deliver pre-employment training for job-seekers.
But, inevitably, it is not a united front. Last month, pressure group London Citizens attacked industry bodies for a lack of response to its call for a "London Living Wage" in hotels ahead of the Olympics.
In the document [Rooms for change: Putting London hotels on track for the Olympics](http://www.londoncitizens.org.uk/pages/pdfs/81287_HotelStrategy%20Web.pdf), the group demanded hotel workers be granted a London Living Wage of £7.45 an hour, and to be given unimpeded access to a union as well as more training and advancement opportunities.
In response, the BHA said: "Now is not the time to demand that hotels introduce a London Living Wage." LOCOG and the London Mayor's office both declined to comment, sparking criticism from London Citizens.
There will undoubtedly be more controversy as 2012 nears, but organisers are confident that hospitality's Olympic offering will do the industry proud.
HOW TO GET INVOLVED IN 2012
LOCOG insists that even companies already employed at existing venues to be used for the Olympics, such as Wimbledon, are not guaranteed to be contracted for the Games and will have to re-tender.
Contract caterers or independent restaurant operators that want to get involved in the Games can apply to tender now at https://www.competefor.com
Information on procurement supplier guides and how to do business with LOCOG can also be found on the site.
By Gemma Sharkey
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