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Catering for London’s Olympics – the strategy

24 September 2009

With 31 competition venues across the country, the Olympic Games in 2012 presents the catering industry with a challenge to feed athletes, workers, press, sponsors guests and visitors.

Can the UK contract catering sector and food producers cope with the challenge of catering for the largest peacetime event ever organised in a structured way? Yes, according to  Charles Manners of the Russell Partnership, speaking last week to 180 members of the FCSI (Foodservice Consultants Society International) assembled at Ascot Racecourse.

The Russell Partnership was appiointed by LOCOG to create the food and delivery strategy for the Olympic and Paralympic Games in 2012, and for the last year Manners and his colleagues have developing of a concept of operation for more than 100 venues incorporating food styles, food locations, space allocation and commercial and cost models for each ‘user’ groups. 

These user groups range from the athletes from 230 countries, the ‘Olympic family’, press, sponsors, technical officials, paid and volunteer workforce, and visitors. It is expected that 10 million people will visit in the Olympic Park itself and another five million in other London venues.  There are 31 competition venues across the country and 23 training venues, as well as four athletes villages at  the Olympic Park  (housing 18,000 athletes) with smaller ones in Weymouth (sailing), Eton Dorney (rowing) and Broxbourne (canoeing).

Manners explained, “ LOCOG is planning for up to 30,000 people per day  to be in the ‘common domain’ at the Olympic Park who will not have tickets for any event but will be there to experience the Games astmosphere and to watch it on giant screens.”

He explained that each of the user groups has different requirements and expectations ranging from the athletes who must have 24 hour food service in large restaurant facilities in the athletes villages plus ‘impulse stations’ and ‘field of play’ delivery provided absolutely free, to the spectators who will need casual dining, food courts, concessions and kiosks and will pay for their food.

He continued:  “The challenge for the 50,000 workforce demonstrates the complexities of designing the food service offering at the Olympic Park,” he said.
Since the Park is the equivalent in length to London’s Oxford Street from Marble Arch to Tottenham Court Road, the workforce needs to be fed twice a day near where they are located on the site. In addition, some will feed free, others will not.

Manners explained that one starting point for building the catering plan was the IOC’s 30 manuals on its requirements for catering at the Games, as well as experience from the Beijing and previous Games, and from the many industry specialists who have worked on the Olympic Games over a number of years. The strategy also had to be aligned to LOCOG’s stated aspirations “sustainability and legacy” and for “a peoples Games, accessibility, low prices and good value food.”

The Olympic Games key sponsors McDonald’s, Coca Cola and Cadbury also have certain rights and requirements that had to be taken into account, alongside many other interests such as procurement, security, waste, ticketing, finance, legal, customer user functions.

“Catering is one small part of a huge jigsaw”, he said.  “LOCOG is planning to have four ‘hubs’ or catering and retailingin the Olympic Park for visitors.” 

The kitchens and catering operations will require some 140,000 sq m of temporary facilities.  Part of the Russell Partnership’s brief was to calculate the space each catering operations will take up.  He explained that it is likely that the catering facilities in the fixed venues including the Olympic stadium and pool will not be used during the Games themselves but allocated to other uses such as technical officials and Olympic support. 

The Russell Partnership has produced tabulations for eveny venue and area of the Games describing the food, style of services, space required and the revenue opportunities.  It has built a separate financial model of every venue and every catering location. This one master model gives some idea of the cost to LOCOG of the catering operations, and the potential for revenue generation.  Some venues will have two or three events during the day and the potential volumes and uptakes, and the average spend and the space allocation have been worked out for each.  “This model is starting to drive out the revenue, the costs to the Games and the revenue surplus.  We have worked out the turnover, surplus and royalty potential for the caterers, and what their earnings could be. We are trying to understand where the profitability is for the caterer and for LOCOG.”

Manners explained that he had also been working with LOCOG’s team designing facilities on H&S, premises design and guidelines on finishes for walls and floors, signage, etc, and drawn up  sample layouts, equipment lists and services requirements for gas and electricity loading to each location.

Despite the size of the logistics operation for  Olympic Games in 2012, Manners explained that in catering terms  “The ‘schools’ spike’ in September is bigger in terms of logistics than the Games will be. The difference will be that vehicles will have to go through security and holding warehouses before coming into the Games site.”

Another challenge will be to include small suppliers as part of the Games sustainability strategy, and he advised that “To win the catering contract at the Games,  the inclusion of local and UK food producers is paramount.  If local producers are not represented, the Games will have failed on one of its key objectives.”

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