Amélie Cartigny, Senior Events Manager at Ascot Racecourse, discusses event catering in a post-COVID environment
As an events venue, Ascot Racecourse is as versatile as it is inspirational. The unique history, legacy and royal connection emanates from its very core, making the meetings and events held at the venue very special indeed. And the food has a lot to do with it.
As a venue, we have always prided ourselves on the food we serve our visitors – whether they are attending one of our many race days, having a Fine Dining experience in one of our suites or using a meeting room on a day delegate package. We want to excite people with food, creating magical memories that ensure people leave having had an extraordinary culinary experience.
2020 has been a difficult and strange year that has turned the event industry on its head. The constantly evolving restrictions put in place to keep people safe have meant we have had to rethink our entire approach to how we prepare and serve our food, and also the type of food we are able to offer our guests. Room spacing and capacity, customer flow, table layouts and one-way systems have all become the new normal for service, with successful social distancing the key aim for all events.
When it comes to our food offering, the objective was to come up with innovative and creative solutions that can be delivered within the required guidelines without compromising on taste, quality and magic. Our catering partner, 1711 by Ascot, operates as a joint venture between Ascot Racecourse and Sodexo, who operate 1,000s of contracts in the UK and Europe. We have benefited a lot from working with the various Sodexo chef forums, where chefs from around the world have chatted and focused on what foods and ways of service our customers would like to enjoy whilst feeling safe and confident in their environment. We still want everyone coming to the racecourse for an event to have an elevated dining experience – it’s just being delivered in a slightly more original way!
Our day delegate packages have probably seen the biggest change in the food delivery. Where we used to offer buffet style lunch where all delegates would congregate in a certain area, we have replaced this with a ‘grab and go’ style service that complies with our COVID-19 guidelines. We are still offering the same range of delicious sandwiches, but they are now individually wrapped as half sandwiches, allowing delegates the option to pick and choose their individual fillings instead of one set sandwich. This has gone down rather well! Where hot food is served, we have removed bulk containers and replaced them with individual portioned pots made up by our culinary team and lidded for safety, or we offer a premium burger and fries in a bag for those who want something a little different. If the event is outside, we can also offer a picnic to enjoy while taking in views of our 179-acre grounds!
Our offering has also been adapted to include all day tea, coffee and grazing breaks for some of our clients to avoid pinch points, with new state-of-the art Lavazza coffee machines operated by our team to ensure we can serve top quality coffee and still support social distancing. Individually wrapped treats and packets of Haribo sweets are offered to delegates for the sugar kick they sometimes need, as well as extended lunch breaks and the offer of additional rooms where they can enjoy breaks safely and comfortably.
Another key consideration in all this has been sustainability. As all food is made on-site, we have continued to use our Sodexo UK & Ireland supply chain to ensure food is sourced sustainably and responsibly. Sadly, some of our local suppliers have not survived the pandemic, and we have had to source new suppliers to ensure we can continue to offer top of the range ingredients.
As a business we are working towards our five-year plan of completely removing all plastics from everything we do, and this goal has not changed. Working within COVID-secure guidelines has meant that we are needing to use more wrapping and single-use materials than we would usually. To ensure we are operating as responsibly as possible and not to lose sight of our overall goal, we are sourcing and investing in a range of sustainable materials, such as biodegradable and recyclable packaging.
To view our latest menus and revised offering, please click here.