Chester Boyd, the city events arm of contract caterer CH&Co, officially opened the Garden Café at Buckingham Palace on 27 July following a successful trial run last year. Operations director Paul Jackson spoke to Janie Stamford about serving tea at the Palace.
Caterer The Buckingham Palace state rooms have been open for visitors since 1993. Why the need for a café now?
Paul Jackson The Royal Collection, which manages the public opening of royal residences, had always received positive feedback from visitors, but they found most would have welcomed the opportunity for a sit down and a cup of tea following the visit. But it was very difficult to find a space that could accommodate the huge numbers of people that visit the Palace while also being set up in a very short space of time, due to the grounds being used for garden parties right up until we open. We have two-and-a-half days in which to install the café on the West Terrace and because space is limited everything has to be disposable.
Caterer How did Chester Boyd win the contract?
PJ We already look after the garden parties at the Palace and built a strong customer relationship with the Royal Collection. When the opportunity arose we were deemed the right partners. It's important from the client's point of view that while we manage the café, the visitor doesn't know any different. We ensure the standards are seamless all the way through.
Caterer How has the café performed?
PJ Last year we did a trial run and this year we've beaten our targets by 30% from day one. We've kept our menu very tight and replaced the worst performing lines. On average, daily footfall to the Palace is between 6,000 and 7,000, starting at 9.45am. The queues start forming at the café from 11am and the seats remain warm until the last visitor leaves at around 6pm. Average spend is around £3 a head.
Caterer What have been the biggest sellers?
PJ People choose with their eyes and because we're in this wonderful environment they tend to want something a bit OTT. The more extravagant cakes work best, as does the coffee with a cocoa crown dusted on to the foam. Visitors love anything with a crown on it, often taking home the paper coffee cups as souvenirs. We had to make our tea trays bigger to try and prevent people from pinching them.
Caterer What challenges does catering at Buckingham Palace pose?
PJ Security is the biggest challenge. Recruitment begins in May ahead of opening on 27 July because of the necessary security clearance and we need the staff to commit to the full eight-week season. The rest of it is all about planning and logistics, which we start talking about in April. We have to get it right then, because once we launch we can't change anything. The weather also poses a challenge - although we've been lucky so far. But when it rains the café fills with people looking to warm up with a cup of tea, which can help trade.