December 16, 2019

Silverstone – A catering operation that’s in pole position

While some might assume that Silverstone only springs into life when the F1 circus rolls into town, in reality the legendary racing venue has a full calendar of hospitality and conferencing events to cater for.

“We’re busy for 12 months of the year, even in winter when there’s isn’t much racing taking place,” explains Jeremy Dover, Head of Catering, who has now bedded into the role after taking on the position over a year ago. “We have a wide range of corporate events throughout the year, while the Christmas party market is a rapidly growing area for us.”

There’s no respite after the festive period either, as the start of the year sees the focus shift to the development of Silverstone’s hospitality menus, a process that involves working hand-in-hand with customers to address areas such as specifications and costings. It’s also at this time that the provision of all the equipment, refrigeration and marquees needed for the coming the season is finalised.

“Of course the F1 week is the pinnacle of our calendar and consequently we have groups that focus purely on the preparations for it,” adds Mr Dover. “It’s a major logistical operation and requires a huge amount of work. For example, hot weather needs to be taken into account and as a consequence the requirement for ice cream and water is phenomenal.”

Whether it’s F1 week or not, Silverstone’s finely tuned supply chain provides the framework for the business to meet all its catering needs, regardless of the size of event.

“We have a small core of suppliers that we work closely with on the planning side and we have a great dialogue with them,” outlines Mr Dover. “We have also built up a good network of local artisan suppliers to help us with the more bespoke items. These tend to be gluten-free and vegan products that aren’t necessarily available through the main supply chains. For instance, we work very close with a local company called Mellow Yellow that supplies us with vinaigrettes and salad dressings, while another local firm provides us with vegan and gluten free crackers and bread products. As they are small operators, we liaise closely with them to ensure they’re able to ramp up production to meet our requirements. We also have a great relationship with a local cheese supplier, so it’s brilliant that we can support small businesses in the surrounding area.”

Complementing its strong supply chain, Silverstone also has a well developed catering team consisting of 35 full-time staff, which are supplemented by a bank of around 16 casual operatives and agency staff for the larger events.

Having a strong full-time workforce enables Silverstone to keep the catering operation in-house, which ensures that standards are consistently high. “Because we are in charge of our own destiny we are able to react quickly to deliver new products in-line with the latest trends. We don’t have the restraints that some contractors might have, so we can be quite agile.

“Training is another area that we put a great deal of effort into and we’re always looking at ways to improve. We have some quite ambitious plans for online training, particularly in areas such as customer service and health and safety.”

Thanks to its staff resources and infrastructure, Silverstone’s catering team can look after all of the retail and hospitality requirements at the circuit in-house. It has a number of fixed outlets, such as coffee shops and cafes, that it operates throughout the year, while on the hospitality side it runs the conference banqueting in The Silverstone Wing, which is one of the largest event bases in the region. This enables the business to cater for everything from conferences and product launches through to Christmas parties and business meetings, as well as race day hospitality provision. It also has a number of hospitality chalets and restaurants that it operates on race days.

While he has come up against several unique challenges in his first year at Silverstone, Mr Dover’s extensive prior catering experience at the likes of Wembley and Duxford Imperial War Museum has played a key part in his ability to settle into the role so quickly. “I have now completed a full calendar of events, which has given me a great insight into the issues we’re facing. Each event has its own idiosyncrasies, so contending with that has been challenging yet highly enjoyable.

“The size and the scale of the site also provides its own challenges in terms of logistics and the planning that’s involved. The key is working closely with the client to fully understand their requirements and ensure that they’re met.”

Regardless of the steep learning curve that the Silverstone role has entailed, Mr Dover has not only had an impressive CV to draw on but has also been ably assisted by his new team of colleagues. “It’s an extremely friendly environment and from Day One has been a really lovely place to work. Of course there are challenges but that’s what makes the job so interesting.

“What’s more, there are a number of really exciting projects on the horizon including the brand new immersive visitor attraction the Silverstone Experience  that we will be delivering the catering for. Being involved in its planning has been fantastic.

“Looking further ahead, the Hilton Garden Inn hotel will be opening next summer and there are also plans for a set of luxury lodges onsite. There will be a food and beverage provision to further enhance the family aspect, so there’s plenty to keep us occupied moving forward.

“In terms of our main aspirations for the year ahead, delivering the support required for the new Silverstone Experience and overseeing its first year operation will be the main focus. At the same time, we will also be developing the conference banqueting business once the new hotel opens. We’re all fully committed to ensuring they these goals are delivered successfully.”

With the ongoing investment to further improve Silverstone, the legendary racing track is in pole position to continue being one of the country’s leading conference and hospitality venues.