The tables are set, the players are warming up and the kitchen teams are ready to plate.
The last of the prosecco bottles is being popped and the front of house staff brace for the doors to the Richard Donald Stand at Aberdeen’s Pittodrie Stadium to open.
When they do, hundreds of people make their way through them.
This specific event today is Ladies Day, but the preparations are much the same for any of their corporate events.
At Aberdeen Football Club (AFC) the hospitality is one of the main elements of the game day experience.
From staff serving fans Pittodrie pies at the kiosks pitch-side, to multiple lounges offering a variety of deals ranging in price, not to mention the three-course meal package at £175 per person that I’m about to experience, making sure everyone is fed on time is crucial to the operation at the grounds.
Caterers BaxterStorey have been running the show alongside Pittodrie staff for the past two years now. Experienced in football club catering, there’s no surprise service on the day is flawless.
Running on time, this team operate like clockwork. After all, when there’s a game to be watched, deadlines must be met.
Graham Mutch, head chef of AFC, doesn’t bat an eye when he tells me the team will cater for 850 people all at once. That’s not including those several other hundred spectators heading to the kiosks.
“I see it as one big restaurant. Everyone is dining at the same time and we have a small window of opportunity.
“A lot of preparation, organisation and dedication is needed in the lead up to a game and the week before. We have a small group of core chefs who help with preparations.”
While hospitality is primarily designed to cater to sponsors and corporate partners of the club, Robert Wicks, commercial director of Aberdeen FC, adds that fans and members of the public can also purchase the experiences.
But what does preparing for game day look like?
An outline of the week:
- Monday: Graham and his team organise the logistics of everything and he’ll assign chefs to each of the kitchens. He’ll also decide what day prep will need to start and what day deliveries will need to come in.
- Wednesday: This is the main day for deliveries for the kitchen, with plenty of fresh produce arriving. The vegetables are usually the first through the doors.
- Thursday: The main prep begins. All of the vegetables have to be prepped and if there are elaborate dishes being made, some elements may have to be started.
- Friday: Everything needs to be prepared by the end of the day ahead of Saturday’s game.
- Saturday: All of the dishes are cooked fresh on the day and served up.
While this is standard protocol, there are some tweaks that need to be made in accordance to each menu. For example, if terrine is the starter, it would be made on the Wednesday and Thursday and would be chilled and portioned on the Friday afternoon.
All of the chefs are in the building from 7am in the morning on game day. The first meal goes out at 1pm and there’s a 30-minute debrief before the day starts where the team go over proceedings.
There’s four kitchens at Pittodrie, each one requiring a team and Graham’s role is to ensure each runs smoothly. A different catering operation lies on each level, with a fine dining focus at the top, to gastro and bistro style as you make your way down the building.
The kitchen team then ends their shift around 4.30pm, before Graham checks out around 6pm once the players are fed.
On match day alone there’s a team of 10 chefs and general assistants in the kitchen, not to mention a large front of house team to help bring the vision to life.
Crafting the menus
Working at least a month in advance, Graham ensures that all menus are in play early doors so that they are available in line with the fixtures.
By using the talent in the company, including the regional development team, culinary lead and regional development chef Stuart Aitken, who initially helped set up the AFC contract, menus can vary from game to game to ensure attendees are left hungry for more.
It is important to keep the menus fresh and customer feedback suggests this is why they have a high volume of repeat custom.
“There’s quite a bit of planning that goes into it. It is about the tastes and seasonality that we have at the specific time of year. We also have a weekly team meeting to discuss options and collaborate with other chefs in different sites,” added Graham.
Catering budgets for Aberdeen FC
With the cost of living crisis taking its toll on businesses across the north and north-east, like every chef, Graham is conscious of spend and waste, working to make every penny count.
He said: “The supply chain has been a real issue for us all with the events over the past few years including Brexit, the pandemic, cost of living. If I was to sit here like a normal chef and complain about it, I wouldn’t be doing my job right, but we’ve got to look at ways where we can adapt.
“Using more local produce, we also look for the better deals. As a chef that’s what I enjoy.”
At Ladies Day, Graham and I discuss how the carrots have come from a farm near Turriff, the tatties from East Lothian, the chicken from Ayrshire and the beef from farms in the Inverurie area via their suppliers.
Other Scottish suppliers they use include Graham’s The Family Dairy, Edinburgh food service firm Mark Murphy, Campbell Brothers for meats and others.
Feeding the players after the match
But it isn’t just the hospitality clientele Graham and the kitchen teams need to worry about. After a busy service and rustling up hundreds of meals, they make the players dinner after any home match, with carbohydrates at the centre of the meal.
“We have to get as many calories into the players as they’ve been burning them off on the pitch,” explains Graham.
“They tend to like things like pizzas, loaded macaroni cheese, potato wedges, sweet potato wedges, and we also do them a breaded chicken burger or a Cajun chicken burger.
“We make power balls for them which is full of natural sugar, pumpkin seeds, coconut, chocolate and they tend to have that before and during the game. And bananas, as well as other fruit.”
What does the future of football hospitality look like?
Further advancing their hospitality experience, Pittodrie bosses have signed off on a three-year deal which will allow Dons fans to be able to sip on brews from The Molson Coors Beverage Company (MCBC) after they became the club’s official partner. The drinks firm will invest in new and upgraded bar facilities at Pittodrie as part of the deal.
MCBC is behind Madri beer and will showcase Madri Exceptional. The deal has been struck in time to celebrate the 40th anniversary of its victory over Real Madrid in the European Cup Winners’ Cup next May.
And as trends begin to change and the hope of a new stadium brews, Robert Wicks envisions a more family oriented experience to be at the forefront of the venue’s future offering.
“People want a more contemporary feel. People are getting tired of arriving three hours early in a suit and tie,” he said.
“While there’s still a market for that, if you look at trends, we’re starting to see people come in at the time of their choosing, still having food that is warm and fresh but at their leisure.
“As we look towards a new stadium, that will be at the top of our minds. I think for us, the family offering is going to be really important. We want to make sure there’s a broader match day experience and it is a real treat for people, even if you’re enjoying something from the kiosks or fine dining.”
- Journalist/words: Julia Bryce
- Videographer: Blair Dingwall
- Timelapse footage: Kenny Elrick
- Photographer: Chris Sumner