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Rupert Sturgeon – A Minute on the Clock

26 March 2009 by

Rupert Spurgeon is the general manager of Exclusive Hotels' South Lodge hotel near Horsham, West Sussex, which this month hosted a summit of the G20 global finance leaders amid tight security. He spoke to Gemma Sharkey about the event

Caterer How did the summit go?

Rupert Spurgeon We were lucky with the weather: the wall-to-wall sunshine really showed the hotel off to its best. The core participants of the G20 - made up of finance ministers and the heads of national banks - all stayed with us. But we also had to host all of the other principal guests, including 500 members of the press and 200 policemen. It was very buzzy. There was constant activity from the members of the delegation and frenetic activity around the meeting room. We served around 4,500 meals in three days we'd do a fraction of that normally.

Caterer What kind of preparations did you make?

RSWe did a lot of preparation in partnership with Government press officers and the Sussex Police, with whom we carried out detailed contingency planning. The main thing for us was that, even though it was a large operation, we wanted it to appear low-key and relaxed.

Caterer Were staff given any special training?

RS Yes, we spent quite a long time making sure that everyone was well briefed in accordance with emergency procedures associated with a big event. Fortunately, none was needed. We also spent a lot of time refining the food served, so we could scale up quickly. We called on about 40 extra members of staff from the Exclusive Hotels group to add to our usual 120 employees to be able to cope with the event. In terms of security, everybody needed to go through a screening process the access and the exit of the hotel were controlled and monitored and there was more active surveillance than normal.

Caterer Did you get any feedback from the guests?

RS Everybody who checked out was extremely complimentary. Chancellor Alistair Darling took time out on Friday night after the evening meal to speak to our executive chef, Lewis Hamblet, to tell him that the food and the ambience of the evening had been exactly what he wanted. He said they'd thoroughly enjoyed it and felt very relaxed.

Caterer What advice would you give to hotels hosting the annual G20 summit in London next month?

RS You can't plan enough for it. All the hours we spent came to the fore and we used our contingency planning for last-minute changes. One of the things we were most proud of was our ability to scale up to accommodate the increase in the numbers of press. We had expected 200-250, but on our busiest day ended up serving 500 instead, which was around 1,000 meals. We had to double the size of our media centre by adding another huge marquee outside alongside the one we'd already put up.

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