HOME WORKERS: LAYING IT ON A PLATE

Posted on: Sun 29 Dec 2013

The next port of call for our feature on matchday operation away from the pitch focuses on the food and drink served up in the hospitality areas of the ground…

Earlier this month, before the home game with Southampton, we found out what culinary options were available to supporters in general admission areas of Stamford Bridge on the day of a home game, and how Levy Restaurants, in charge of the process, went about executing the operation.

There are approximately 36,000 seats which fall into that category, so the remaining 5,500 places in the stadium must also be accounted for. Those seats are filled by the club's directors, guests, the players' family and friends, as well as supporters who have opted to purchase a hospitality package to make their match-going experience suit their tastes.

Ben Burton, deputy general manager of Levy Restaurant's operations at Stamford Bridge, is one of the men charged with overseeing the hospitality areas of the stadium on the day of a game. He explains how the day pans out.

'The managers have a briefing at about 9am which will last about an hour,' he says. 'We literally go through everything, from timings to venues to any special requirements.

'Then at 10am our restaurant managers and assistant managers will come in to all the different areas. They'll check everything is set up correctly and liaise with the chefs about the day ahead.

'We employ 470 staff on a matchday with an additional 55 chefs. The chefs, including the head chef and four sous chefs, will arrive at about 6am. There is a lot of prep to do! Unlike a lot of football stadia we cook everything from fresh. We don't buy anything in, and that includes the desserts. We have a special pastry chef who makes all of the cakes.

'At about 11am, an hour and an half before the doors open, the staff start coming in. They'll go up to their areas and receive a briefing, and then they'll be allocated to their area of work, whether it be tables to look after, bar staff or back of house.'

Once the guests arrive, there are a variety of different menus on offer depending on which package supporters have chosen, ranging from a carvery to a five-course meal, and since the beginning of last season, drinks are included. In an attempt to add special flavour to the occasion, Levy's prepare a unique offering for guests to enjoy.

'We do a 'wow factor' idea which changes every match,' Burton says. 'A few seasons ago, when we played Blackpool, we got sticks of rock made with Chelsea versus Blackpool and the date on them. When we played Schalke recently we had the local German beer in.'

Once the final whistle has blown, some more traditional football fare - namely hot dogs, pies and burgers - is available, and within an hour of the end of the match, drinking-up time is called. With everyone out, the cleaning begins, and when that's done, the hospitality areas are set up in preparation for the next event.

It's a long day for Burton and his team, but as he ponders the whole process, he can't help but conclude it's a thoroughly rewarding one.

'With matches it's never quiet in hospitality. It's probably one of the toughest gigs in catering, but the hospitality team have the most exciting job with some great events. Of course there are times when they've had a hard week, but we have a great team and I know they have a good time doing it.

'On a matchday it's fantastic to walk around and see everything's going well and the guests are all happy.'