London 2012, or as organisers are calling it, the world's largest peacetime catering operation, kicks off this week, and the hospitality industry is ready. Elly Earls explains what we can expect from caterers and hospitality businesses around the country
From 27 July to 12 August, more than 14 million meals will be served in 40 locations, during what organisers have christened the world's largest peacetime catering operation. From athletes in their training camps to VIP hospitality guests, Olympic spectators to stadium waiting staff - everyone needs to be fed, and fed well.
But it's not only the food that the industry needs to get right. The entire experience - from the staff's welcome to the guest's wheelchair accessible exit from their hotel - needs to present Britain in its best possible light. After all, it's not just those 17 action-packed days of competition that matter; a flawless performance from the hospitality industry could create a lasting legacy of sustainability, diversity and top-quality service for many years to come.
And the industry is certainly taking its responsibility seriously. Not only are caterers and hospitality businesses pulling out all the stops to meet the London Organising Committee for the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games' (Locog's) ambitious food vision, they're going above and beyond what is required, producing everything from guides on local dialects to Olympic-themed spa treatments.
One hotel, the Park Plaza County Hall, has even gone so far as to calculate precisely how many breakfasts, tube maps, cups of coffee and even toilet rolls guests are estimated to need during the period. (14,000, 10,000, 12,000 and 8,000, respectively).
Indeed, preparation has been absolutely key, not least for the contract caterers who will be serving hoards of ticket holders, athletes, members of the media and dignitaries, among many others, at the Olympic venues themselves. Thousands of extra recruits have been drafted in to look after the tens of thousands of guests expected to be served each day and one contract caterer has even ordered in 25 tonnes of coffee in preparation for the two million cups of coffee they expect to provide during London 2012.
The industry is ready; let the Games begin!
Birmingham University fuels Usain Bolt
At Birmingham University, which is providing catering services for the Jamaican track and field squad, operations are already well under way and head chef Wayne Willis (pictured) is delighted with the visiting athletes' reaction to their food. "They're absolutely chowing down!" he laughs.
This is largely due to the huge amount of preparation Willis and his team have put in; long before the team arrived on 15 July, the head chef had been working closely with Jamaican chef Carl Thomas to ensure that Usain Bolt and his colleagues felt right at home as soon as training began.
"Carl devised the menus; we wanted to make them as authentic as we possibly could to give the Jamaican athletic team a home from home feel," he explains. "And the menus have been outstanding to say the least. Carl has brought some new ideas and flavours to the table and we've put a few of our own little twists on them where we can."
Willis and his team have also tried to ensure that all food served to the visiting Olympic competitors is safe, in accordance with the Food Standards Agency's Play It Safe campaign. Part of the campaign involves working with businesses that are dealing with specialist ingredients and different types of food, which, as Sarah Appleby, the FSA's head of enforcement, emphasises, is a great opportunity for catering organisations.
"The Olympics poses a really interesting challenge to caterers in the UK to try out new recipes and ideas," she says. "We already have a really diverse food industry, which is fantastic, but we want to help and encourage caterers to take this opportunity to meet all the different demands they might experience, not just from visitors, but also from athletes. It's great for our industry and will be part of the legacy of the Games."
Olympic Park catering
Preparing to cater for the Olympic venues hasn't been easy, but with hard work, dedication and a lot of extra staff, each and every one of the catering companies contracted to operate at London 2012 is ready and raring to go.
BaxterStorey, which will provide catering services to the world's media at the Main Press Centre and the International Broadcast Centre for both the Olympic and Paralympic Games, will be feeding 18,000 journalists per day during the Olympics and 9,000 during the Paralympics, and chief executive Noel Mahony (pictured) couldn't be more excited. "Catering for the media at the games is a fantastic opportunity for BaxterStorey to be seen as a leading UK caterer that's been selected to meet the needs of such a prestigious event, and we're delighted to be involved," he says.
In order to meet this huge challenge, the caterer is providing 400 chefs, baristas and customer service assistants every day during the peak operational period and has worked closely with 250 of their independent regional suppliers and an additional 18 smaller artisan food suppliers to make sure that they not only deliver a guaranteed service 24-7, but that they provide the finest dishes prepared with British ingredients.
Sustainability is also a key consideration for caterers during London 2012 and something Mahony is fully prepared for. "With London 2012 set to be the most ethical and environmentally friendly Olympics to date, the procedures we already have in place put us in a strong and unique position to source, create and serve fresh, local food right the way through the Olympic period," he adds.
"Nevertheless, the legacy of the Games will certainly help to raise standards within the food service industry and we're looking forward to seeing how this will impact the contract catering sector as a whole. We believe that the Locog Food Vision will become the template for the majority of public sector tenders in the future."
Amadeus, the NEC Group's catering business, which will be supplying catering services within the Olympic Park North for public, staff and hospitality guests, is equally committed to a sustainable Olympic period. Indeed, as well as procuring through locally and ethically sourced suppliers, the caterer will also ensure zero waste to landfill.
Other caterers operating within Olympic venues include Sodexo, Compass Group and Aramark. While Aramark has been contracted to operate at the Olympic villages as well as Weymouth and Portland, where the sailing will take place, Compass Group will be covering North Greenwich Arena, the City of Coventry Stadium, Wembley Arena, Wimbledon, the Millennium Stadium, Earls Court and ExCeL.
Finally, Prestige Ticketing Limited, a joint venture between Sodexo and the Mike Burton Group, has been appointed as the sole provider of up to 110,000 hospitality packages, and Sodexo will also be providing catering for athletes, team officials, technical officials, up to 200,000 spectators each day, around 4,000 staff a day, media, IOC members, Locog members, special guests and country representatives at a variety of venues, including Olympic Park South, Lords and Hampden Park. The company has recruited 3,800 people, of whom around 40% are from the host boroughs.
People 1st chief executive Brian Wisdom considers the Olympic legacy for hospitality
Much emphasis has been placed on the legacy of the 2012 London Olympic and Paralympic Games, in particular what benefits the hospitality industry will receive.
As the sector skills council for hospitality, People 1st has been looking at the potential benefits for hospitality since London was first announced as the host city for the 30th Olympiad.
One of the key areas we looked at were the skills requirements within the industry to ensure we could provide the best experience possible when the Games finally arrived. We did a lot of research and worked with employers, all of which identified customer service as a key area for improvement.
We looked at what other Olympic host cities had done to improve customer service and ultimately introduced the WorldHost programme, which was initially developed in Canada, the number one ranking nation for welcoming tourists.
WorldHost was used successfully at the Vancouver Winter Olympics, where it was used to train 39,000 volunteers and tourism staff, and we developed the programme for the UK with the support of VisitEngland.
Businesses, volunteer groups, towns and even an entire island throughout the UK have since used WorldHost to train staff and volunteers in advance of the London 2012 Olympics and future sporting and cultural events that will be held in the country during the decade.
In 2011, WorldHost was awarded the London 2012 Inspire mark, which reflects the significant contribution the London Olympic organising committee think this programme can make to the successful staging of the Games and the legacy benefits for skills and employment. People 1st's Employment 1st programme - a pre-employment training package for individuals considering a career within hospitality - was also awarded the Inspire mark.
The provision of key training programmes that address specific employer needs within the industry are all part of the Olympic training legacy. While thousands have been trained in the lead-up to the Games, the programmes continue to be available and will ensure hospitality benefits in the long term from the economic opportunities of 2012.
Creating a memorable experience
The Four Seasons Hotel London at Park Lane is really getting into the Olympic spirit with themed offers at both the spa and the cocktail bar.
While the hotel's high-end cocktail bar, which boasts a floor to ceiling wine library and over 70 classic and contemporary cocktails, will be serving the ‘Olympic Cocktail', the ‘Gold Rush', the ‘Silver Shot' and the ‘Bronze Booster', the venue's spa will offer a ‘Go for Gold Hydrating Ritual', a ‘Silver Stone Revival', and a ‘Bronze Essentials' treatment.
For general manager John Stauss it's all about creating a memorable experience for the hotel's guests, something that he hopes will keep his team motivated throughout the busy period.
"It is a huge honour both for our city and for our hotel to be involved in the hosting of the 2012 Olympics," he says. "With the eyes of the world on London this summer it is a great motivator for our employees to know that they will be part of this historic occasion - the greatest sporting event in the world and of our generation. Everyone of our 425-strong team is looking forward to the important role they have in creating truly memorable stays for the thousands of guests we will welcome during the Olympics."
Indeed, each and every guest, disabled or able-bodied, will be able to enjoy the hotel's offerings without disruption.
"Recently shortlisted for a Catey Accessibility Award 2012, the Four Seasons Hotel London at Park Lane is proud to offer equal levels of customer service for guests with and without disabilities," Stauss emphasises. "The hotel is fully accessible and in compliance with all Aspects of the Equality Act, offering a complete range of accessible services for maximum convenience and comfort for all guests."
Kicking off at City of Coventry Stadium
Tom Harris, executive chef at the City of Coventry Stadium, and his dedicated team are gearing up for the most high-profile assignment of their careers when the Olympic Games comes to the city.
The City of Coventry Stadium is the only Midlands venue to have been chosen to host an Olympic event in any sport or discipline and will kick off staging 12 Olympic football matches over eight days with a double-header between Japan and Canada followed by Sweden against South Africa on 25 July.
"We are the first English city to host an Olympic event as part of London 2012 - two days ahead of the Opening Ceremony - and we are fully prepared," Harris says.
Indeed, Harris has been working closely with Locog to prepare the menus not only for around 3,000 corporate hospitality guests but also for 11,000 volunteers who will be on duty on match days.
"All the chefs are really excited because it is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to prepare food during the Olympic Games," he says. "There will be 150 working days for the kitchen team and it has been a privilege to put the menus together."
Sustainability has been a key consideration for Harris, both in terms of sourcing ingredients and disposing of them post-event.
"The meat and vegetables are sourced whenever possible from Red Tractor farms, which ensures quality standards at every stage of the food chain for all our menus," he notes, adding that waste will be 100% recycled.
Corporate guests can look forward to dishes including sea bass with rosemary and lemon, and peppered seared loin of Red Tractor beef with horseradish cream and English watercress, while behind the scenes staff and volunteers will certainly not be overlooked. "They will be served hearty and wholesome food including pork and leek sausages with red onion gravy or roast chicken dinners with stuffing and gravy," Harris says.
ACT Clean founder John Stevenson on how london will ensure fantastic first impressions
We've been talking about the 2012 Olympics for so long that it doesn't seem quite real that it's actually upon us and that the greatest show on earth kicks off, right on our doorstep this week. Now is the time to focus on nothing but being the best. It's the time to give a great account of ourselves and our amazing sense of welcome and hospitality.
We've been preparing with our clients for some considerable time now; preparing for the unexpected; being able to react and respond to issues that we don't know or fully understand as yet. In a nutshell, being there for whatever they need, whenever they need it. Being a partner, more than a supplier and helping to set the scene for truly great guest experiences.
It's an oft overused phrase but first impressions do count. So we're making sure that no matter what crops up in the next few weeks, that we are there to keep the standards of cleanliness to the highest levelsa. Transport issues or people being held up just won't be good enough - there are no excuses, places just have to shine. Guests expect and demand, quite rightly so, this as a minimum.
The key to good partnerships and doing a great job, even when times are challenging, is good communication, so we've made sure that every client and team member knows who and how to contact at all times. Openness and honesty goes a long way in dealing with issues or problems that may arise so we've shared all the information that we have and our thoughts on what may cause us difficulties, in the hope that we can plan to avoid them together.
We're fairly confident that we are as prepared as we can be… and hope you are too. Now all that's left is to deliver on our promises and aspirations and to enjoy what will undoubtedly be a once in a lifetime experience for us all. And hope for some sunshine and British medals too!
Our Profiting from 2012 series is published in association with ACT Clean and People 1st
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