WINNING an elite bicycle race takes stamina, strategy and skill. The same can be said for managing a touring catering operation. British caterer Eat to the Beat took high-end catering on the road in February, serving some 9,000 VIPs in 10 cities over the course of eight days for the first Amgen Tour of California race.
With the tour, Los Angeles-based race presenter AEG hopes to create an event “that will one day rival the Tour de France,” according to Timothy J. Leiweke, AEG president and CEO. This year's race, which took place Feb. 19-26, got off to a hot start, drawing more than 1.3 million spectators to a course that ran 600 miles through California, from San Francisco to Redondo Beach.
The quick pace of the cyclists was matched by the team from Eat to the Beat, which provided corporate hospitality at both the start and finish locations each day. “On average, we were catering for 150 guests at the start locations and 450 people at the finish locations,” notes Bonnie May, operations director for Eat to the Beat parent company Global Infusion Group. She estimates that the catering team turned out more than 70,000 food items for the VIP guests.
RISE AND SHINE
The event team routinely turned parking lots into reception areas. “Everything took place in temporary structures, with the start team loading in at 2 a.M. And the afternoon team loading in at 8 a.M.; These guys then starting building the structures, and the caterers arrived on site shortly after to set up,” May explains. Each day, the race began and ended near the hospitality tents, although on the longer courses, “the riders had left the start location before the build started at the finish location!”
The lightning-fast load-ins and load-outs were “unbelievably challenging,” says Karen LuKanic, AEG senior director of special services. “The tents were up just three to four hours before the guests arrived.”
The mobile venues presented hurdles for vendor deliveries. “Being a moving target made it hard to deliver to us,” LuKanic says. “We were taking deliveries on the street. We'd tell our phenomenal foodservice vendors, ‘Come to Main Street between First and Second between 7 and 9 a.m.!’”
Eat to the Beat brought 11 crew members from the U.K. and hired another 45 locals through a staffing agency; volunteers at each location also pitched in. The team worked with two complete touring rigs, which included tents, kitchens, power, water, drainage and toilets. “We own all our kitchen equipment, and it's all flight-cased so it's easy to tour,” May says. “We even bring along the kitchen sink!”
Taking catering on the road is a familiar tune for Eat to the Beat, which got its start 22 years ago providing catering for touring rock bands. May notes that the task of feeding headliners is not so very different from caring for corporate executives.
“In principle the jobs are very similar, with the finer points adapted to suit the requirements of the specific client,” she explains. “We often tend to be one of the first [teams] in and the last out, and tour with a core team, using local staff and produce along the way. The corporate tours are more structured than the music tours, as the format and menu are the same each day. On the music tours, it's the people who stay the same each day, and the menus and locations change.”
The Amgen Tour came off as planned with few surprises along the way, LuKanic says. In one adjustment, the punishing load-in/load-out schedule prompted event management to split the installation team in two — setup and tear-down. “At first, the crew was working on only three hours' sleep; you can't do that and then have a smile on your face for guests,” LuKanic explains. Although corporate hospitality usually brings a demand for soft drinks, wine and beer, the cool February weather boosted calls for more hot coffee, she adds.
AEG, which is already making plans for next year's race, takes pride in having delivered a winning event for title sponsor Amgen. Amgen “is very involved in special events, and a very tough critic,” LuKanic says. “It was good to be able to meet and exceed their expectations.” She adds that she knew the event team had scored a win when she overheard a VIP say, “I feel sorry for the other cycling events, because [the Amgen Tour of California] has set the bar so high.”
AEG, 213/763-7766; www.aegworldwide.com; Eat to the Beat/Global Infusion Group, +44 1923 211703; www.eattothebeat.com
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