If ever an anecdote served to illustrate the importance of business entertaining, it is surely the story of how Ted Weschler, the managing partner of a hedge fund from Charlottesville, Virginia, came to be appointed as Warren Buffett’s successor at the legendary financier’s insurance holding company, conglomerate and multibillion-dollar investment vehicle Berkshire Hathaway.
Last summer, at a charity auction, Weschler, 50, bid $2,626,411 for the privilege of a meal in the company of the great man. As the New York Times reported it, “The winner of the auction and seven friends [bought] the opportunity to break bread and chew the fat with Mr Buffett.” An extravagant gesture, certainly, but Weschler plainly made a good impression, and the punt paid off. He joins Buffett’s payroll in early 2012.
The importance in business of offering and accepting hospitality, of sharing food with clients, current and prospective, cannot be underestimated. Even Richard Alderman, director of the Serious Fraud Office, in stressing that it remains perfectly legal under the new Bribery Act, described it as “a feature of doing business: one of the ways in which you build up and refresh relationships”.
But restaurants are commonplace, accessible to anyone who can afford them and not invariably memorable. How much more special to entertain your clients and friends at Wembley Stadium, an unforgettable venue whether or not you combine it with a match, whatever the size of your party and however discriminating their tastes.
For though catering at stadiums may be associated chiefly with hot dogs, fish and chips and burgers, all of which, it goes without saying are available at the numerous food and drink service points in the stadium, there is also altogether classier fare to be found.
For instance, Club Wembley members have access to five restaurants, as well as two Champagne and Seafood Bars, the formal seated Venue (in the northwest corner) and Arc (in the northeast) restaurants and buffet-style Atrium between them – some of them offering the finest sort of dining. (It should come as no surprise that Wembley’s executive chef, Frank Coughlan, has cooked not just at Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle, but was once presented with an award for his services to cooking in his native Ireland by the Taoiseach himself, Bertie Ahern.)
At the sensational England-Ghana friendly last spring, Bobby Moore Club members dining in the exclusive Bobby Moore Room restaurant began their meal with Cromer crab and a rocket salad, citrus-soused cucumber and a crisp sour-dough croute, followed by a duo of Cornish lamb (garlic roasted rump and a shepherd’s pie of slow-cooked shoulder) or a supreme of halibut with clam chowder, and finished with a rose-and-raspberry “dome” or platter of English artisanal Shropshire and Lancashire cheeses, quince jelly, fruit chutney and sour-cherry loaf. Post match, there were open tartlets filled with red-onion mash as well as miniature Cumberland sausages to snack on before the journey home.
“A lot of the members eat regularly at top restaurants,” says Coughlan, acknowledging his duty to produce food of the very highest quality, both in terms of its provenance and his inventiveness as a chef. He describes his job as “the best in England” (even though the Manchester United supporter rarely gets to see a match), but his responsibilities are awe-inspiring. The Bobby Moore Room alone has 1,800 covers. And it’s not unusual for him to oversee the production of 10,000 meals on a match day. (“The ops side was impeccable, and the food was amazing,” one satisfied customer wrote to say after hosting an event here.)
Not that Coughlan actually does much cooking in any of the stadium’s 90 kitchens (excluding those in the concession restaurants). But in supervising 140 chefs – in addition to his regular brigade of 39, he can walk up to 15km during a single shift.
Of course, not all the hospitality at Wembley focuses on dinner. And nor is the catering operation restricted to match and concert days. For Delaware North Companies UK, which oversees the stadium’s catering operation, also caters for anything from sandwich lunches for two to cocktail parties for 3,250. For beyond its role as a sports stadium and concert venue, Wembley has the capacity to host all sorts of private events year-round.
Existing Club Wembley box-holders will already know that membership brings with it the right to use their box 364 days a year as an office or meeting room. “On one occasion, we had a client fly in from Dubai,” remembers one corporate box-holder, the sales director of an international lighting company in the East Midlands. He wasn’t going to be in the UK long enough to make the journey to the company’s headquarters in Nottinghamshire, “So we took him to our box. He was an electrical engineer, and the team at Wembley gave us a behind-the-scenes tour: all the wiring and everything, things the public would never get to see. This guy was fascinated.” The contract was in the bag.
But even non-members can hire parts of the stadium for conferences and meetings in the 166 luxuriously appointed and stylish boxes, which are furnished with tables that can set between 10 and 20, as well as sofas for break-out sessions, and indeed a balcony overlooking the pitch. Catering options range from sandwich lunches to buffets. It goes without saying that data projectors, screens, flip charts and so on are provided. Yet prices start at just £59 plus VAT a head.
For larger events, a range of other function rooms is available, none grander than the bi-level Bobby Moore Room, which has an area of 3,480sq m, panoramic views of both the pitch and the north London skyline and can cater for cocktail parties of up to 3,250.
But there are other such splendid, if not quite so spacious, rooms. The Great Hall, for example, has been used for events as various as cabaret evenings (in which case its capacity is 750), dinner dances for 1,000 guests and buffets for 2,000. Then there’s the Atrium, a little over half the size of the Great Hall, with about half its capacity. And finally, there’s the 616 sq m Wembley Suite for 250 to 500 people.
Since it opened it 2007, Wembley has hosted a range of events from product launches and exhibitions to team-building events, awards and graduation ceremonies. On a more a festive note, it’s become an ideal and original place to host a Christmas party. (The seasonal dinner package, from £60pp excluding VAT, for 20 to 1,000 guests, starts with cranberry fizz, includes a traditional three-course meal, wine, disco, a Powerleague five-a-side tournament and, if desired, celebrity lookalikes!)
Indeed it’s even licensed for weddings. The bridal couple can make their vows by the side of the pitch, their friends and family seated in the stands. Then after photographs on the hallowed turf, the wedding party proceeds to a champagne reception, followed by a three-course “breakfast” or buffet, dancing till 1am. There’s an in-house wedding coordinator to ensure everything runs smoothly and that everything’s perfect (they’ll even match the table linen and napkins to the bridal couple’s team colours). Oh, and as a special memento, the happy couple will receive tickets to an England match the following year.
Two unforgettable days for the price of one.