Cheltenham Racecourse expert insight: How to feed half a million racegoers

From Champagne and Chateaubriand in the exclusive Cheltenham Club to pie and Guinness by the finish line, Cheltenham Racecourse’s catering boss Phil Roberts shares the secret to keeping almost half a million racegoers content – and reveals what tasty new treats are in store during the 2018-19 season.

By Michelle Fyrne  |  Published
Hand-carved Chateaubriand, truffled macaroni cheese and Cheltenham Racecourses very own pub are just a few of the things to look forward to during the 2018-19 season.
Hand-carved Chateaubriand, truffled macaroni cheese and Cheltenham Racecourse’s very own pub are just a few of the things to look forward to during the 2018-19 season.

Keeping a staggering 470,000 people fed and watered is no mean feat. SoGlos talks to Phil Roberts, who runs Jockey Club Catering across the south west – including all of Cheltenham Racecourse’s restaurants, private boxes and hospitality – about how he keeps almost half a million racegoers cheering!

Looking at the season ahead, including The Festival™ presented by Magners 2019, SoGlos finds out exactly what tasty new highlights are in store for racegoers during the 2018-19 season at the world-famous racecourse – including Cheltenham Racecourse’s very own pub!

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So, exactly what is the secret to catering to 470,000 racegoers a year? And keeping them all happy?

Quality, quality, quality. It doesn’t matter whether you’re watching the races from the Best Mate Enclosure or our finest hospitality area, The Cheltenham Club, you will have a unique experience and enjoy quality.

It also requires rather a lot of planning!

We’ve heard you’re pretty meticulous – just how detailed are the catering plans for the season ahead?

I have to be! From a planning perspective, the minute we finish one season, we start planning the next – often working up to 24 months in advance. From the various menus we detail, and the wine producers and farmers we work with, to the choice of cutlery and china we use, all the way through to staffing levels and training – quality is something that we focus on, despite the huge volumes.

The Festival™ presented by Magners 2019 takes an awful lot of planning, in particular. In 2018, we served more than 11,000 racegoers each day in hospitality alone, many of those enjoyed three course lunches and afternoon tea, not to mention all of the fixed and temporary catering stands, but we scored a 97 per cent satisfaction level. It’s about having the right style and right quality.

Are there any statistics that blow your mind about mass catering at Cheltenham Racecourse?

Everything is done on such an enormous scale. Over the four days at The Festival™ alone, more than seven tonnes of potatoes are consumed and more than five tonnes of salmon. More than 10,000 gallons of coffee are drunk too!

Do you use any local suppliers or growers?

We always try to work with as many local producers as possible, within a 50- and 100-mile radius, but the sheer scale can be scary. We would easily wipe out a year’s worth of some producers’ stock in just four days, for example, so while we love working with locals, we have to be mindful of the numbers.

All the beef and lamb we use at The Festival™ comes from across the Cotswolds; and we also serve Simon Weaver’s superb brie, made in the Cotswolds.

We serve Ridgeview British sparkling wine, which is young, fresh and very, very good quality, produced a little further away on a family-run vineyard, near Brighton.

Provenance is very important to us. All the fish we use is sustainable and has been landed in Orkney and Brixham. Executive chef Tom Parry spends a lot of time visiting suppliers and making sure we get it right.

Just what is so special about Cheltenham Racecourse?

It’s unique, it’s the home of Jump racing – there is literally no better place on earth to be on a chilly and bright March morning. It’s a unique experience for every racegoer and the atmosphere is incredible.

Catering at Cheltenham Racecourse is special too. It’s the best of British and reflects everything that The Jockey Club stands for.

During The Festival™ presented by Magners 2019, there will be 15 restaurants and more than 40 hospitality areas to enjoy – including the chance to sip a glass of Moët Champagne in one of the many restaurants and hospitality areas in the longest temporary structures in Europe – spanning an incredible three floors of 140-metres! Around 4,500 racegoers will enjoy this facility each day!

The views from the Panoramic Restaurant are just incredible. While the elegance and opulence of The Cheltenham Club, a private members’ club on the top floor of The Princess Royal Stand, is simply unmatched. It is an extraordinary facility – one of the very best in any sporting stadium anywhere in the world!

What’s new to tempt Cheltenham racegoers’ taste buds in 2018-19?

This season, we are really looking forward to serving a refreshed menu in Quevega’s – our indoor-outdoor wine bar, tapas restaurant and Costa coffee shop. It will be serving exciting tapas dishes including chilli beef tortillas, truffled macaroni cheese and delicious stuffed mushrooms, so lookout for those!

Best of British Chateaubriand will be hand-carved at the table in The Cheltenham Club. And for the second year running, the Theatre@ will return to The Festival™, serving exceptional Pan Asian cuisine. Chez Roux will also be making a welcome return to The Festival™, and is always very popular with foodies, as it is hosted by Albert Roux and his son Michel Roux Jnr.

This is very exciting… we are also launching The Horse and Groom at The Festival™ 2019 – Cheltenham Racecourse’s very own pub! It will be course-facing and will be a really fun space: serving local beers, great food and even traditional pub games, there’s also a few surprises too!

By Michelle Fyrne

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