Jonathan Parker explains how 1711 caters to thousands of racegoers at Ascot

27 March 2024 by
Jonathan Parker explains how 1711 caters to thousands of racegoers at Ascot

The managing director of catering arm 1711 by Ascot talks about this year's chef line-up, from Lisa Goodwin-Allen to Raymond Blanc, to Maria Mellor

Tell me about 1711 by Ascotand how the partnership works with Sodexo

I'm a director on the board of Ascot Racecourse and I look after lots of things, including food and beverage, logistics, cleaning and waste management.

We have a major relationship with caterer Sodexo. The previous contract, which was commission-based, was very much run by Sodexo – they just got on with it and Ascot didn't have that much involvement. When the new contract was devised in 2014, the view was that we wanted to make it a stronger partnership. Now, both companies work together from a profit share perspective and Ascot is a lot more involved.

We decided we needed a white label name for the partnership, and that's how 1711 by Ascot came about. We have since extended that brand to other external events, such as golf tournaments the BMW PGA Championship in Wentworth in Surrey and the Open Championship.

What does the year look like for Ascot, including Royal Ascot week?

We have 26 race days, five of which are Royal Ascot, but we have about 250 events over the year, including both corporate and our own events. We have a barbecue festival in July called Smoke and Fire, when barbecue chefs from across the world come to cook amazing food – that brings in a completely new audience for us.

You must have such a huge variety of F&B to cover

We've evolved quite quickly from a typical Ascot race day. We've got 5,000 food and beverage and cleaning staff, and pretty much everyone that visits us will experience food and beverage at some point during the day, be it a cup of tea when they first arrive in the morning, a glass of Champagne or an all-day hospitality experience.

We've got to be able to compete with food on the high street because people come in with raised expectations and everyone's looking for an elevated experience. We're working with chefs from Michelin-starred restaurants to design spaces that complement the food they're going to deliver.

What's new for fine dining at Royal Ascot this year?

In June we've got two new amazing chefs. Lisa Goodwin-Allen will run our On 5 restaurant in the Queen Anne enclosure – in the past we've had Simon Rogan in there, Phil Howard and Brett Graham, so she sits with some esteemed company.

We're also really excited about Tom Shepherd [owner of Upstairs by Tom Shepherd in Litchfield in Staffordshire], who will look after our Sandringham restaurant. He brings a little bit of Asian influence with his food, such as his peanut satay scallop dish. There's a real buzz about him.

Raymond Blanc is serving his ninth year at Royal Ascot – he's a culinary ambassador for us and will have a brand new menu at the Panoramic restaurant. He's such a great host, because he will go and sit and chat with all the customers.

We've also got a number of street food options. We're looking at some Mexican and South American concepts – it's great for a caterer like me to be working at a venue where you can keep trying new things and you've got a customer base that will be really excited about what we do.

What are the challenges that come with Royal Ascot?

Chefs from Michelin-starred restaurants are used to being in control. They tell people when to eat and how to eat – everything is timed. At Ascot the chefs have to cope with all their customers disappearing just when they're expecting to take out the main course because, for example, they've gone to watch a race or they've heard that some of the royal family are in the parade ring.

How is staffing?

The management of 5,000 staff takes an enormous amount of team effort. We do trial runs for Royal Ascot the day before and we run the Ascot Academy to train staff into specific roles, both in-person and through e-learning modules. Guests pay the same money on day one as they do on day five, so we need to give them the right experience straight off the bat.

A lot of our events are during university holidays, so students who come home for the summer holidays will be recruited to work at Royal Ascot. Many of them come back to us the following year with more experience, which is even better for us. We also have about 200 people who work overnight, taking in deliveries and moving stock, as well as 250 cleaners.

It's very different to any other event I've been to. I think we're very lucky because we get to do lots of really cool things. Both the customers and the staff come here to have a great time. It's a really nice summer event to come and enjoy.

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