Who’s been eating all the pies at Norwich City’s Carrow Road ground?
When you buy your next half-time pie at Carrow Road or tuck into a spot of pre-match lunch at Delia's, you might like to think about the military style behind the scenes operation that ensures 26,000 football fans are well fed and don't miss a second of the action.
Every match day, a team of more than 300 catering staff ready the kiosks, lay the tables, man the beer pumps, get the coffee and teapots brewing and start prepping and cooking ready for a non-stop catering marathon.
During the season, a staggering 24,000 sit down meals are served and more than 110,000 pies and sausage rolls are enjoyed by fans – and when your club is as closely to linked to a British cooking icon as the Canaries are, standards are set extremely high.
Chris Pope, executive chef and acting catering operations manager, says despite the enormous challenge of running a catering operation on such a scale, it is all in a day's work for him and his team. 'We think nothing of it and sometimes it takes someone else looking in to say something to make us realise the size of the operation here.
'We just have a great team here. We are very calm and organised, I think we are very good at using people's strengths,' he says.
Chris has worked at Norwich City for seven years, having previously worked in London for Intercontinental Hotels, the House of Commons, the QE2 and for Cambridge University, as well as a country house hotel in Norfolk.
'Norwich City was bigger than anything I had done before. I had worked for places with lots of different restaurant and food sections but I felt this was a real challenge,' he says.
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'The company has come a long way in a short time and they have reached a point where their numbers have just got bigger and bigger. Even when we were in League One, we were still incredibly busy as Delia says we have the best fans in the world.'
Planning for thousands of potential diners has its challenges and organisation is key, especially for those having a sit-down meal. Timing is everything and while ultimately all diners want their food on time, there is some flexibility. The same can't be said for a football kick-off.
'We always say our bit is really quite simple,' says Chris. 'We know how long things should take and when they should be ready. Customers are booked to arrive at staggered times before the match, but if 300 people arrive at exactly the same time it presents a certain set of challenges. Fans might be stuck in a traffic jam around the ground or it could be someone who has a corporate season ticket who has passed it on to someone else to use and they haven't read all the details. We have to be ready for that.
'The customer's expectation is that regardless of anything, their meal must have ended before kick-off because it is the football they have come for; we are just a nice addition,' he laughs.
There are some perks to working in the catering department of a football ground – firstly you get to enjoy the atmosphere of the match itself, but also you get to sample the food – although Chris jokes that this is not always a good thing.
'For the past few seasons we have had a pie tasting session to make sure we have the best pies on sale. They normally take place at some hideous early hour and we have to try about 30 different pies. It sounds great but by the time you have tried about 20, it can become hard work, believe me.
'But we have worked very closely with the company who produce our pies to make sure they are as good as possible and the same for the sausage rolls. We have to make sure we get the best quality, for the best value for both the fans and the club,' he says.
'It's as important to get the food right – whether it is the high end hospitality in Delia's or the sausage roll and cup of tea from the kiosk by the stands.'