hile many have tried and even had a good run, from Nostradamus to Ollie the World Cup Octopus, predicting the future is no easy task.
In the world of hospitality, things move fast, from international tastes to dining style to the tonic you put with your spirit, so being able to identify trends and movements puts you one step ahead of the game.
In September 2017, the second annual Sports & Leisure Catering Awards was delighted to welcome Roy Westwood, strategic, creative and innovation director at Levy UK, to the stage for an inspiring live interview.
Having touched upon some of the exciting projects, such as the remodelling of the general admission areas and concession kiosks at The O2 Arena, SLC magazine felt we should catch up with Westwood for more insight into his role and what we can expect from Levy’s latest projects.
Having joined the Compass Group in 2009, and been a part of the team that brought the US-based Levy Restaurants to the UK market, Westwood has a passion for F&B.
“We wanted to bring a brand ethos to the UK that was more specific to venues, and Levy was a US market-leading brand under Compass,” says Westwood.
Focused on the sports and leisure sector, Levy Restaurants UK has an impressive client portfolio that includes the likes of Chelsea FC, The Championships at Wimbledon, The O2 Arena, the Imperial War Museum and many more.
Westwood himself has a history in creating concepts with venues and celebrity chefs, for example working with chef Tom Aikens at Somerset House to create Tom’s Deli and Tom’s Kitchen; the Aspens Food Company at the Snowdome in Tamworth; and the Opera House Pub and Courtyard Restaurant at Glyndebourne.
“My role was developed to give Levy Restaurants a more forward-thinking and strategic direction of where the F&B market will go in the future within venues specifically,” says Westwood.
“We know that the high street is very forward-thinking, with many concepts constantly pushing the boundaries of F&B. People tend to eat out more in the high street than they do in venues, so this level of innovation has become the norm.
“That level of expectation has continued and that really started to show the gap between the high street and the venue sector,” he continues.
“That became quite difficult for contract caterers, whose mind-set, historically, was very different to the high street just because of the way venue operations used to run.
“The decision was made that, in our sector, we needed to be a leader in changing venue F&B to reflect the high street but without losing the connection with the venue that we operate in.”
Westwood explains just how important it is to make a distinction between high street F&B concepts and those within venues.
“Venues have to operate slightly differently because of the mechanics of what they are, and we ultimately have to represent our clients’ brand,” he says. “We can’t put concepts in a venue that doesn’t complement its brand or actively competes with its brand.
“So, we have to understand innovation from the high street and show venues how we can bring that innovation in without diluting their brand.”
STYLE & SUBSTANCE
On the high street, the design and look of an F&B concept plays an important part in attracting customers in through the door. And while this does ring true with F&B within a venue – as we have seen with the stunning concession and retail revolution at The O2 – there is much more to creating a successful food and beverage operation within a stadium, arena or large event space.
“It’s not about designing stuff that just looks beautiful, it is about something that is operationally beautiful. Everything always has to be underpinned by operational delivery.
“You can’t just think about the F&B customer, you have to think about the whole journey a customer has to go through before they hit an F&B point.
“A bar that looks really cool might work in the high street, but it won’t in a venue,” adds Westwood. “You have to knit it all together and consider the bigger picture. It has to function in a very different way because of the thousands of people that use it at interval times in a show. No high street bar will have to deal with that kind of pressure in that short a period of time.
“The mechanics by which we design has to reflect the operational delivery and be able to cope with those pressure points.”
As a wise person once said, beauty is only skin deep. And Westwood explains that while creating a beautiful looking concept that perfectly links back to its host venue is important, functionality is the true key.
“We always look at the customer experience,” he says. “But at the end of the day the main part of the customer experience is that we deliver them a beer. It doesn’t matter how pretty the bar is and what we throw at it, if we can’t deliver you a beer, then we have failed and the guest experience has crashed.”
TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR STADIUM
One of the most eagerly anticipated stadium builds in recent years has seen Tottenham Hotspur FC enter a 10-year partnership with Levy UK to create a whole new level of sports hospitality.
With a flurry of CGI images and a conveyor belt of announcements, the caterer, working with world-renowned chefs, has created a host of new culinary experiences at the stadium, which is due to open this summer.
The illustrious Roux family have been brought in alongside multi-Michelin-starred chef Chris Galvin, Bryn Williams and Dipna Anand.
And while the high-end hospitality is set to completely remodel the way we think about match days, with on-site microbreweries, chef’s tables and cheese bars, the vast majority of fans are at entry-level general admission, an area that Westwood is keen to develop across the industry.
“We have been working with the club, the architects and the interior designers very closely,” he says. “A lot of the F&B philosophy that we started to develop at The O2 and the principle of that has been integrated into the new Tottenham Hotspur stadium.
“It has been very important for us to bring those ideas into stadia. I think in arenas, with the amount of shows they put on, it was almost seen as a slightly easier market to enter first with these innovations, but the stadium market has a huge potential.
“Across the board we are seeing the next generation of diners looking for experiences. When people go out now, they bolt a lot of things together and really make a day of it and look for an overall experience.
“So, the football is the main reason to come to the stadium, but they’d like to come earlier, or stay longer and spend more money or spend more time with their friends that they are coming with.
“The entertainment is what happens on the pitch and we are not in control of that, but we are in control of the hours before and potentially after.
“So, it was really important for us, from a general admission customer perspective, to really push the boundaries.
“We have a hell of a client there in Tottenham, who have been very visionary. So that’s allowed us to really bring up that general fan experience, with the concourses, the finishes and the quality to move away from that ‘hole-in-the-wall’ experience.”
An area has been created in the new South Stand in which Levy has developed plans for a major bar and food outlets.
“They are much more in the middle of the stand. It’s more of a marketplace, completely moving away from a traditional concourse environment,” says Westwood. “It is more free-flowing, and that will hopefully drive the consumer and fans to come earlier and have something to see and do in an environment that is comfortable.
“It is nothing like the cold concrete concourses of the past which had nothing experiential about them and contributed to fans not wanting to come to the ground early.
“We know that if fans come early they will be around for a longer period of time and socialise more and are ultimately likely to spend more. From a revenue perspective that drives up the potential money in the tills.
“We will work with the club on how to use those spaces, with live music or entertainment or other things to do beyond F&B, which really becomes part of the whole experience piece.”
During the last two years we have seen the trend of venues offering a tiered hospitality option so as to attract new customers and not just the super-rich. At Tottenham Hotspur, this approach will be put into practice.
“We have worked with other stadia and arenas on the concourse experience to give the general admission fans different tiers of experience,” says Westwood. “On one tier they can buy a beer, on another they can buy a craft beer, or another where they can buy a cocktail. It is about giving consumer choice. From plastic cups to glasses, or from counter service to table delivery. It is those little things that allow the elevation of price point and experience that are tied together.
“One of the key things we have tried to create is a General Admission Plus offer, where a fan might not want to quite enter the hospitality experience but on a particular game they want an upgrade, so we have really looked at how to give another tier of experience to the general admission fans.
“Perhaps general admission areas or lounges, where fans either pay a small amount to enter, or it is free to get in but the price point of the F&B might be a little bit higher by us offering a slightly different product mix.”
Westwood believes that creating the opportunity for people to upgrade, no matter where they are, is very important to the experience.
“It all comes about because of consumer choice and knowing that 40,000 people don’t all want the same thing and not assuming that just because someone is a GA fan, that they don’t have money to spend.
“We want to create different options for them to choose for themselves.”
Part of the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) portfolio, Whipsnade Zoo in Bedfordshire entered a partnership with Levy UK in the summer of 2017. It was announced that Whipsnade’s five cafés would undergo investment and redesign as part of the multi-year contact.
The UK’s largest zoo, which welcomes more than half a million visitors each year, is spread across 600 acres, which is both a barrier and an opportunity for its new catering associates.“The zoo is quite interesting,” says Westwood, “because you don’t just look at the F&B concept, you have to look at the location of each concept within the zoo because that drives a lot of customer journey. You have to look at what time the average customer will reach which area of the zoo.
“That data drives what type of concept should be where, be it a restaurant or a café or an ice-cream offer. The whole journey allows for very clever primary and secondary purchase opportunities.”
Westwood describes a “primary purchase” being your primary meal of the day, like a lunch; the “secondary purchase” could be an ice cream or snack, or could even be on arrival, so a coffee in the morning.
“So, it is very important that there is a café early on arrival, because most people will arrive around 10am on the busy days,” he says. “You don’t need a restaurant outlet as such at that time in the morning. Customers will want a croissant, a coffee or a cup of tea.
“And then after walking for an hour or 90 minutes, customers will begin to get hungry so they are now looking for a primary spend, an opportunity to have lunch. So, it is important that there is a restaurant not too far away from where they would reach in the zoo journey.
“It is key to understand that to get the right offer in front of people at the right time of day.”
At the heart of the redevelopment plans is the introduction of River Cottage, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s acclaimed restaurant concept. This will draw on themes of provenance, sustainability and seasonal British flavours, something that Westwood and his team was very conscious of.
“We have put a River Cottage Kitchen and Deli into a building that was previously underutilised,” says Westwood. “It is in a beautiful location on the hilltop overlooking the site. It wasn’t just about picking any partner, it was because River Cottage is really aligned with what ZSL stands for. We were very conscious that the partner had to match the philosophy of the zoo.
“We have been able to create a branded restaurant with a higher tier of experience. It is important to raise the level of experience beyond customer expectation, no matter which venue it is in. I think that being able to do that in a zoo rather than in an up market art gallery or cultural centre shows a real step change in the whole philosophy of where food and beverage in venues is going.”
Another restaurant under development at Whipsnade will see Levy introduce technology that will play a big part in the service.
“There is a tablet on the table, and the family can all order off the tablet, rather than through a waiter,” says Westwood. “So it is giving that freedom to the consumers. Kids and adults are on their tablets all the time an now and we think it’s a fun and playful thing to do, while also helping the service and operations as well.
“So we have the traditional wood-burning oven setting of the River Cottage outlet, and the other side a second restaurant which is technology driven and modern. These two extremes give customers completely different options and choice in one venue.”
It won’t have escaped anyone’s attention that 2018 is a big year for hospitality and the economy in general. With the Brexit cloud remaining in place, could we be about to see a new blurring of the lines between traditional retail and F&B? Westwood thinks so.
“The challenge is on for retail stores, with online taking away business from high street shops, as well as other factors,” says Westwood. “Two things could potentially happen. Firstly, retail closures will free up real estate on the high street, and while you can buy takeaways and even order meals through Deliveroo, one thing you can’t get is the restaurant experience online. So, I don’t think they will suffer as much.
“They will be challenged, of course, and they will have to work out those challenges, but I think restaurants may well have to take up the slack if high streets are going to retain the number of outlets they have.
“Secondly, traditional retailers will have to adapt and adopt by bringing F&B into their portfolio.
“We saw it in the early days with Debenhams and the big department stores having a canteen. But I think it will be very different soon. I think there will be a lot more of a blend of retailer and restaurant under one concept.
“For example, the Ralph Lauren store in Regents Street, London, has a Ralph Lauren bar in there and all sorts of F&B offers. It is totally Ralph Lauren branded and it is amazing to see how much space they have dedicated to F&B.
“So, that will be really interesting to see in the future, whether having retail and F&B blended together bringspeople back into the shops.”