Fans of Premiership rugby club Saracens have every right to be excited about the redevelopment project that has been taking place at Allianz Park.
Officially opened at the end of last month, the 10,000-seater venue, which also serves as an athletics stadium, has been given a major makeover to create what has been dubbed a “genuine community stadium”.
One company that has seen the multimillion pound transition close up is Nottingham-based kitchen house Garners Food Service Equipment, which managed the catering equipment aspect of the stadium right from the very beginning.
“We worked on it absolutely from conception — it wasn’t as if we picked up a tender drawing or came into it very late on,” says Tim Fisher, managing director and owner of Garners. “From conception it was literally a blank piece of paper as the areas themselves were barely set. We worked very closely with the architect and in particular a consultant called Paul Biffen of Oracle Venue Management Services.”
Garners is no stranger to the challenges of working on British sports stadia. Over the years the company has completed numerous projects within the sector, counting the likes of Leicester Tigers, Manchester City, Somerset County Cricket Club and Wolverhampton Wanderers among its customer base.
Like many stadia builds these days, commercial pressures dictate that there is now just as much emphasis on maximising a venue’s earning potential outside of matchdays as there is during the games themselves.
The main Allianz Park concourse, for instance, could theoretically host rugby supporters watching a match on one day before being transformed into a conference or banqueting hall the next day, illustrating why flexibility in the catering operation is intrinsic to the commercial success of the stadium.
The kitchen and equipment decisions that were taken were heavily influenced by both the diversity of the catering offering and the lay-out of the main production areas. Essentially, this breaks down into one central production kitchen, four satellite kitchens, a public concourse servery and a public concourse bar.
Further bars, including an executive bar and a players’ lounge, are also located within the site. “The scope of works was up to and including all of the beer cellars, which is a little bit different for us,” admits Fisher. “We provided all of the cellar cooling as well.”
The main production kitchen is based on the ground floor of the main stand, while two satellite kitchens feeding three different areas — the Fez Club, Tulip Club and Century dining areas — as well as a separate kosher kitchen are all located on the first floor. The second floor, meanwhile, contains another satellite kitchen serving the executive hospitality areas and players’ lounge.
Each of the dining areas can accommodate 200 to 300 people at a time depending on the event, with adjustable screens allowing the floor space to be increased or decreased as necessary. “The two key words here are ‘multifunction’ and ‘flexible’,” says Fisher.
“The areas are all flexible spaces in terms of physical, demountable acoustic screening, so you can mix them in any configuration you like from one big space to a mixture of thirds or two-thirds for large non-matchday events, such as banquets, keynote speeches or function work. And overall there is some very high-grade stuff on the catering side. We are talking about crushed ice wells for matchday catering in the Tulip dining area, for instance, with crayfish, lobster, oyster bars and champagne bars.”
Given that the stadium in its old guise didn’t really have any sort of significant executive non-matchday offering, the new set-up will provide it with an opportunity to increase its client reach and expand its food and beverage revenues. Inevitably, there has been a considerable investment in new equipment to ensure this is the case.
“There are quality brands throughout,” comments Fisher. “Rational is at the heart of the operation with its new, top-end White Efficiency fully-programmable combis because we are talking about a plated meal regeneration cook-chill operation.
“In the main production kitchen there is a bank of four 20-grids, in each of the normal satellites there is one 20-grid — while one also has an additional 10-grid — and in the kosher kitchen there are two 40-grids plus a six-grid. 11 Rational units went on site in total.”
The philosophy of leveraging a cook-chill CPU and plated meal regeneration system was something that Garners played a key role in shaping, together with the consultant Paul Biffen.
As such, the concept represented a completely new approach for the stadium caterers, so Garners worked closely with Rational to carry out exclusive menu testing early on in the conception process to demonstrate just how efficient the arrangement would be.
Potential concerns over issues such as food presentation and meal flexibility were quickly overcome, as dummy batch runs on all of the caterer’s various menu options left all parties in no doubt as to the sort of results that this style of production could deliver.
Fisher insists that placing Rational at the hub of the foodservice offering was a straightforward decision given the operation’s objectives and volume requirements. On matchdays, for instance, the capacity of the executive dining areas alone is understood to be up to 800 covers.
Therefore, when pressure built up to reduce some of the cost, as happens with most projects, Garners resisted any temptation to switch the specification. Says Fisher: “Rational is a quality brand and a specialist piece of kit. A project that revolved exclusively around that type of operation needed the right kit, quite frankly. As always, when the financial aspects of it came to light it was revisited. We looked at it, and we had to look at alternatives, but when it came to value engineering we were fairly steadfast in saying, ‘yes, there are other combis, but let’s protect the Rational because it is the right thing to do. Let’s look for economies elsewhere.’”
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Away from the combi steamer aspect of the operation, Electrolux features high on the agenda, especially in the production kitchen where its heavy duty 900 series has been installed to provide an ideal foil to the Rational fleet.
“The heavy duty suite is suitable for things like deep fat frying and raw prep work,” says Fisher. “You have got to bear in mind that you are talking about a production kitchen here to make the meal, whereas the Rational really comes into its own to regenerate it in the satellite kitchens.”
Electrolux also has some of its warewashing equipment installed at the stadium, along with a single tank pass-through machine from Meiko. On the refrigeration side, Williams supplied storage cabinets while Nottingham-based Storer Refrigeration provided all of the main walk-in units, chilled prep rooms and chilled holding rooms.
A high capacity Foster blast chiller, meanwhile, was specified to complement the Rational combis because of its ability to bring the food down to temperature on the cook-chill side of things.
Issues such as space planning, equipment footprints and budgetary constraints tend to be common on most commercial catering equipment schemes these days, but Fisher says the Allianz Park job also threw up a very different kind of test.
“I suppose the single biggest challenge was to be able to come up with very flexible and multi-faceted design solutions,” he admits. “Rarely is there one kitchen that is designed to do exclusively one thing. It really is about the flexibility of design because of the commercial aspect of selling spaces for different functions.”
Although it is not the largest stadium job that Garners has completed, it certainly ranks up there with the best of them in terms of size and complexity, and Fisher says this is reflected by the relationship that it needed to develop with the client to ensure that all its catering objectives were met.
“Ultimately we had to make this stand up commercially, not just in terms of the theory or value for money with equipment, but the broader issue of things like staff numbers, man hours on site and reductions of waste. If we had taken the view of just being a kitchen supplier, we wouldn’t be talking about this project now. We had to take the view — and rightly so — that we were working very much with them. This wasn’t designing a kitchen, this was designing the right facilities to give them the tools to run a business.”
Garners bids to keep its eyes on the prize
From relatively humble beginnings serving the local commercial catering community, Garners Food Service Equipment has grown to become one of the most well-respected nationwide commercial catering design houses.
The Nottingham-based distributor has just reached its 30th year in business and managing director, Tim Fisher, who bought out the company in 2009 from the original founders, John and Rosie Garner, believes the company’s staying power is down to several key factors.
“It is down to the quality of the service we provide to clients and supply chain alike, with an emphasis on nurturing and building upon long-lasting, quality relationships. In addition, we have a broad footprint of market sectors. As we reach our 30-year anniversary and look to the future we will continue to grow in a steady and solid manner,” he says.
CEDA member Garners offers an extensive package of services, including commercial kitchen design, project management, extraction canopy installation and the provision of turnkey packages, including wall cladding, contract furniture, service and maintenance and site-specific preventative maintenance contracts.
“We recognise the need for teamwork and carefully coordinated management procedures that give both our clients and supply chain partners the reassurance of knowing their business is not only in safe hands but being professionally expedited from receipt of the initial enquiry to successful project hand-over and, beyond that, our comprehensive after-sales services,” concludes Fisher.
To see pictures of the project view our exclusive online photo gallery here.