The FLC met for the final time in 2007 on Thursday 20th December. With the meeting principally concerned with catering issues, chairman Paul Duffen was absent. In his place were marketing manager Andy Dawson and members of the catering operation employed by the Stadium Management Committee.
Discussed first were vegetarian options, which one Amber Nectar correspondent considered to be slightly lacking. For those who choose not to eat the dead, cheese and onion pies as well as pizza pods are available. The catering company are also looking at introducing baked potatoes. These will require a proper examination as their preparation will be lengthier than most existing foodstuffs, but they will hopefully be on sale later this season.
Could we also have a plain burger? Not really, it was explained – they are pre-prepared and primarily with cheese, the removal of which would not be feasible in a high-volume operation.
That perennial issue for thirsty Tigers, the beer, was also discussed. Mention of the pre-pouring systems was made, with it being noted that lager is always more readily available than bitter. It was explained that lager outsells beer by a 4:1 ration, hence the required to have more of the former ready. The FLC was informed that the alcohol operation ran by the former suppliers Carlsberg was one of their biggest UK accounts. Somehow, it’s quite nice to note that City fans are such excellent consumers of ale. Or does it just mean we were a bit poo last season and alcoholic sustenance was frequently required?
The temperature of the bitter was also raised, with the complaint being that it’s too cold. This is unlikely to be remedied, as the same remote cooler is used for both lager and bitter.
A price comparison was produced for those who consider the ale to be too costly. A pint at City costs £2.60 – when viewed alongside to “comparable and fairly local clubs” (Derby, Sheff U, Sheff W, Leicester, Notts Forest, Sunderland, Stoke, Huddersfield, Leeds, West Brom, Wolves and Barnsley), ours is actually the cheapest.
The increase in sales when additional beer-only kiosks were introduced into the ever-crowded East concourse demonstrates that supply is not presenting meeting demand. Without major reconstruction to this part of the ground, no easy answers are available for solving this problem.
Finally for non-teetotallers, 500ml bottles of Magners are to be trialled later this season. Not over ice. Hopefully.
The Catering Company
It was asked if the catering company makes a profit. Their dual operations was described – the one of providing matchday food and drink, and that of events. An example of the latter was occuring on the same evening as the FLC meeting, a dinner with former boxer Nigel Benn. These each contribute roughly half of the total business. The price elasticity of products was raised, but it is not felt that reducing prices would bring about the increase in business to increase profitability. The division of money between the club and company was enquired about. The club gets a percentage commission from sales.
As City fans are notoriously late arrivers, with 75% of the crowd not inside the ground until 2.45pm on a typical matchday, ways of increasing sales before the game are being looked at. One is a price reduction before the game in order to increase sales and revenue for the club before matches instead of the money being spent away from the ground.
The issue of pre-paying for half-time drinks has been raised several times, with nothing coming of it. The club and the catering company is aware that this scheme would be potentially popular, but it was noted that the same number of people would still be queuing during half-time.
The successes of the pitchside vendors was mentioned. The hawkers have experienced the difficulty of repeatedly having to return to re-stock and they can only sell about 20 or so hot drinks in one go. It is also difficult to station them in the crowded East concourse for safety reasons, and there are no plans to equip them with alcoholic beverages.
Difficulties communicating with some of the kiosk staff were raised. Frequently, these are agency staff with an uncertain command of English, which produces obviously problems in a crowded and noisy area. With 200-250 casual staff required on an average matchday the problems of recruitment are ever-present, although greater attempts to attract students at local colleges and universities are being made.
The issue of identity was raised. At some clubs, the plastic glasses are branded with the club crest and the signage makes reference to the home club. This could not easily be introduced at City owing to the presence of the eggchasing infidels, but the possibility of branded glasses will be looked in to.
Some have observed that the food is too hot. This is a health and safety issue as undercooked food would be extremely unwise, and the catering company were (rightly) unrepentant about it. As an aside, it was noted that the regular food hygiene inspection will be occurring on an upcoming matchday. Expect supernova-hot foodstuffs on this day.
Less popular items (wine and soup) will be advertised more, in order to let supporters know that these products actually are on sale.
The problems with items selling out at some kiosks was raised. The company feels that this is handled quite well (with the caveat that it’s a high volume operation in a very tight time frame), with each kiosk having a manager in communication with the rest to whisk stock from one to the other if required.
Is unsold food kept? No – a “four hour rule” is in operation, and even giving it away may contravene some regulation or other.
The FLC members jointly signed a letter from one of the members requesting the council examine the present condition of the entrances and exits of Walton Street carpark, plus the state of the lighting and surface. It is hoped that a representative of the council can attend a future meeting.
Sky enquired about the possibility of televising the Sheffield Wednesday fixture on December 30th, with a distinctly horrible kick-off time of 1130am. With the West Brom match already confirmed for live coverage (at a more supporter-friendly 5.20pm), this was not pursued.