How do you feed 4,000 VIP guests in an exceedingly tight time schedule?
With such an ambitious objective, this is not a task for the faint-hearted. But Payne and Gunter, event caterers extraordinaire, take it in their stride. They have been looking after The BRIT Awards for several years so fully understand the high demands of producing a sumptuous dining experience within almost impossible time constraints. Their starting point is creating the menu which is designed to be British, seasonal and elegant – with a touch of fun. They endeavour to use British ingredients wherever possible: lamb farmed in the West Country, vegetables from Devon and Lincolnshire, herbs from Suffolk, and microleaf and cresses from Westlands, part of the leaf initiative linking farming and the environment.
Preparing and serving a three-course dinner to 4,000 VIP guests in two hours with no flexibility for over-runs requires the most meticulous planning. Payne and Gunter together with their O2 associates, Levy Restaurants, have formulated a system of uncompromising efficiency that ensures guests are served a dinner worthy of this glittering event, within the time allotted, with all tables cleared before the show starts. There is no room for error and the success of an operation of this magnitude relies not only on precision planning, but also on the staff.
Bethan James and Lucy Fulford, Payne and Gunter’s project managers for the event, explain that fortunately, many of their staff have worked on several BRITs events so have the benefit of continuity coupled with experience. It is, unsurprisingly, a very large team of people: 60 chefs, 600 wait staff, 40 management staff. In addition, three temporary kitchens have to be constructed because a dining event of this scale is unique, even for The O2.
On the day of the Awards, setting up and culinary activities start at 9.00am and continue through to the peak pressure point of serving dinner between 5.30 and 7.30pm. During the show itself, the catering teams are busy setting up the party area and readying bars for the after-show party which goes on until around 1.00am. It’s an intense schedule with Lucy, who has been described as “angelically calm”, overseeing it all and only completely relaxing once all the guests have gone home. She loves working on the event and when asked if anything could go wrong on the night, she smiles and states emphatically: “No.”