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Meet the expert: Martina Flood, Head of Catering Operations at Aviva Stadium

On average there are twenty pitch events organised at Aviva Stadium per year, which can range from rugby matches, football matches and also concerts and music events.

ESSMA interviewed, Martina Flood, Head of Catering Operations at Aviva Stadium, about staff training, hospitality and the switch between rugby and football. The venue has 36 corporate boxes, 28 bars, 25 food kiosks and people can pre-order their drinks via the RapidQ app.

Are there incentives or programs in terms of staff retention?

The challenge with the stadium is that we only have 20 major events across the year while we do meeting and events on non-match days. It is not enough to keep the full 1,200 staff working all the time so we tend to incentivize by giving a star or award for each match day across the different levels and different areas. We also have an ‘introduce-a-friend’-scheme. So an employee will get a benefit if they bring along another friend to work at the venue. Because we do continuous training and development programs where we allow our staff to grow into a role where they can become a team leader or supervisor. That also incentivizes them to stay and work for us.

On a match day, we can have up to 1,200 staff members working here at the stadium that includes: managers, chefs, cleaners, people working in the bars and people working in the corporate hospitality areas.

Which hospitality possibilities does AVIVA Stadium provide?

At AVIVA Stadium we have 36 corporate boxes and in addition to that we have a number of hospitality areas. In total we can do up to 3,000 covers on a match day. On very large match days such as the Six Nations, Ireland v England rugby matches, we have a marquee that is placed just outside the stadium. So our covers can go up to 3,500 hospitality covers on those days. It is quite unique; as the caterer we don’t sell the hospitality packages. The organizations, whether it is the RFU, the FAI, Leinster or even American football when we’ve had that at the stadium as well, have their own hospitality provider. We provide a package and then we deliver food, drinks and service on the day. So it is very important to have good partnerships with all of those people to ensure a good service.

Since there are different stakeholders for AVIVA Stadium, how is the hospitality organized with each tenant? Does the IRFU have an exclusive package?

Yes, every event is unique and different. So with our Six Nations for the IRFU, the options for hospitality will be different than the options for hospitality for autumn series. Because obviously the clients who are attending will vary for these types of different events and the same will apply to our football matches, our music events and obviously any American football. A lot of work goes into the planning for those menus, where we do menu tastings. People get an opportunity to choose which style of service they would like, whether they want full banqueting style service or they want it more casual. Based on that planning, which can start happening up to twelve months out, we then build the remaining packages and we present them to the different hospitality agents.

How many concession stands are there in the stadium?

We have 54 concession stands in total and they are based across three levels. One premium level and then we have two levels for general admission. It is broken into 28 bars and 26 food kiosks. Our bars have fast port technology, which means we can serve a pint of Guinness in 6 seconds and a pint of Carlsberg in 4 seconds. So very handy for half-time when the rush is on and we have to serve as many people as possible. In our food kiosks we are very fortunate that we have live cooking facilities in every single food kiosk so the food is prepared freshly, cooked freshly and served freshly on the day. A chef is present in every single food kiosk and we just make sure that everything will run and that we do everything from burgers to hotdogs, using an Irish sausage recipe that is specific to the AVIVA Stadium only. And also anything in between from pizzas to soft drinks, crisps, etc.

At the busiest time, a fan can be expected to be served in 3,5 minutes. From joining the back of the queue to getting into the front and getting their service.

Is there a pre-ordering system at AVIVA Stadium?

About four years ago we started to look at pre-ordering and how we could incorporate it into the services within the stadium. Predominantly to address the busy half-time rushes. We initially started looking at ‘in-seats’-ordering, but we learned very quickly that people don’t like a match being interrupted by drinks or food being delivered to their seats so we changed after trailing it for a little while. We worked very closely with a company called Preoday and designed, what is now, our ‘RapidQ’-app. We have 10 different points across the stadium whereby you can download the app before you arrive or even while you are at the stadium. You can select what you would like to drink, where you would like to collect it and at what time you would like to collect it. We saw our largest pre-order sales come in for the recent Ireland v England rugby match and we are hoping to grow enough for the coming events, in particular music nights. They generally tend to have a lot more people who will pre-order for those, because it is over a longer period.

How many people use the RapidQ app during games?

For the Ireland v England game, we had over 2,000 downloads of the app, which is quite impressive from my own experience working with similar apps across other venues

Since there is no fixed tenant and a varying crowd, what is the impact on the integrations of a club card for payments?

We have started to have a look how we could possibly bring in a cashless system within the stadium. Naturally It has benefits for everyone, but the challenges that come with having two different disciplines operate in the stadium, both IRFU and FAI and then on top of that you don’t have the same fans that attend all the IRFU matches or all the FAI matches. Some of the areas we are starting to look at that will regard this are our season ticket holders. And how we could perhaps engage with them to encourage them to maybe start trialing some cashless systems. We have started some initial discussions; it is probably a little bit further down the line but it is certainly something that I would like to see happen throughout the stadium within the coming years.

We tend to do what we call ‘home from home’ and we do this for both football matches and rugby matches. The team that is travelling, from whichever country they come from, we will look at a dish that is quite popular in that country and we will serve it in selected kiosks around the stadium. It’s proven very popular. We will decorate that kiosk up with flags from that country as well and it has proven quite popular and it makes the fans feel a little bit more welcome because they are getting a taste of their own country when they come and visit our country.

How does the switch between rugby and football impact the operations, for example the different regulations on alcohol?

In regard to football and rugby, it is quite interesting because in the last two weeks we have had two of each game. However, with our friendly football matches we are allowed to serve alcohol on all levels. There are some challenges naturally around when it is a competitive match when we can’t serve alcohol. To change all of your bar systems out you have to remove all the stock. So from a financial standpoint it can have some impact, however the benefits of being able to then swap back around to a rugby match where you can serve alcohol throughout the stadium outweigh the negatives that come with the challenges.

Besides the changes of the bars, is there anything else that has to be changed for competitive football matches?

No, we offer the same food offers throughout the stadium for both disciplines. For those matches where we can serve alcohol, it is the same alcohol that is served throughout as well.