The Emirates Stadium Interview
Surely feeding and watering football fans – even at such an impressive venue as the Emirates – is mainly a matter of getting to grips with the numbers?
You’re right about there being a lot of them – the Emirates Stadium holds a capacity crowd of 60,000 fans – and they only have a short space of time in which to re-fuel at half time. But nowadays, they expect something better than a soggy hot dog and a lukewarm pint and they don’t want to queue for ages to get it. Particularly in a stadium such as the Emirates where everything shouts ‘quality’. It’s not just a matter of throwing more equipment at the situation. Football stadia have very specific requirements. In the past, equipment providers tended to make do with existing equipment on the market, which wasn’t up to the job. Many suppliers still do – but that simply wasn’t good enough for either KCCJ or The Gunners.
So how did you tackle the challenge
As far as I know, no-one before us had ever reviewed the equipment to see how it could be converted for the stadia industry. Most large stadia work with in-cup coffee product to keep pace with demand, but the quality of the end product is poor. It’s like drinking sludge. We worked with different coffee machine manufacturers until we found one that was prepared to develop something that suits the industry. From our figures, they configured existing equipment to meet the requirements. We now have coffee making machines specifically designed for football grounds.
So it’s as much about quality as quantity?
Very much so. It’s not just about supplying a machine that provides coffee faster. It’s about offering people better quality coffee that they will enjoy and for which Arsenal can charge a premium. By offering the fans a better beverage experience, we helped the club maximise it's revenue streams. The catering is part of the experience that Arsenal is offering its fans – and it had to match the outstanding quality of the rest of the project.
A win-win situation for KCCJ then?
Absolutely. We scored another first with the groundbreaking beer system we developed with IMI Cornelius. It’s an extremely sophisticated piece of kit, which enables bar staff to serve an ice-cold pint to around 50% of a capacity crowd during the half-time break alone. And Electrolux Professional came up trumps with a cost effective dishwasher housing a built-in refrigeration unit to remove hot air and moisture in the kitchens.
Having sourced all this revolutionary equipment, how challenging was the actual fit-out?
Hugely. The sheer size and scale of the working environment took quite a bit of getting used to, particularly when it came to the logistics of python planning and moving equipment around the site. But the real challenge for us was project managing the entire catering installation. We not only designed every kitchen, servery, bar and cellar, but also planned and managed the co-ordination of all the utility services; and appointed and co-ordinated all of the other contractors. We even carried out a large part of the physical installation of the services, including all the kitchen concession ductwork and fresh air canopies.
Must have been a tough call for the KCCJ team on the front line?
When you have 50-60 staff in different trades, keeping a handle on everything that’s going on within your team certainly uses up a lot of brain cells. When people want to know which section’s at which stage – all the what, when, where, why and how – you have to have instant recall. Our development director Jeff Webb reckons he walked an average of 8km a day around the stadium keeping tabs on everything!
You must have been pretty confident about your teamwork in order to co-ordinate such a huge project?
An engineering background helps because we’re able to understand the needs of both the builder and the client. We developed excellent working relationships with Sir Robert McAlpine, Arsenal and all the various contractors involved with the project. Finding the right commercial partners takes time, but it’s worth it
The Emirates Stadium is an architectural icon. The fit-out must have been quite an experience for your team?
Like no other. It was a fabulous project for us and we’re proud to have been a key player in the team that delivered it on time and on budget. We’re also proud of the innovative systems and products we produced to enhance the match-day experience for the Gunners’ fans - many of which have set new standards in the industry. Much of the work is behind the scenes. About £2 million worth of ventilation and services ductwork alone is tucked above the ceilings. But even if the fans remain unaware how their pint and pie are delivered, they know they are buying quality and they’re happy to pay for it - and that’s real job satisfaction as far as we’re concerned.