Delia Smith’s conference collection

Norwich City Football Club joint majority shareholder Delia Smith shares her recipe for building hospitality, catering and conferencing for the Canaries.

After becoming a board director with husband Michael Wynn Jones 14 years ago, national treasure Delia Smith decided that a catering operation could be a viable option to increase revenue at Norwich City Football Club. Delia’s aim was to bring down costs and move quality up.

“Twelve years ago our outside caterer was paying us £60,000 a year. I thought we could better that,” she says.

It is hard to imagine the function rooms as they were 12 years ago but, as Delia explains, it has been a labour of love through the years: “It was very hard work over a three-year period. I used to come in every week for three days and also brought in someone from London from a large catering company to work with me, and it started from there.

“We had to refurbish the rooms because it was a dump. The kitchens were in the middle of the Gunn Club and Top of the Terrace (two of the largest suites at the stadium) so you couldn’t have a function there anyway. We had to get an architect in, re-design the stand, move the kitchens out and build on at the back, which was a big operation to undertake.

“When we set out we tried to make this the best venue in East Anglia, so we brought in a designer to ensure that everything looked classy and stylish and I think we do now have the best venue in East Anglia.”

Today, Delia’s Canary Catering (www.deliascanarycatering.com) is a year-round business managing conferences, banqueting, two restaurants and a packed programme of events, in addition to providing match-day dining for over 1,000 guests each match.

The revenue created from the catering arm provides much needed income and consistently injects £500,000 profit into the club’s balance sheet.

“Anything that brings money in to help pay for the football is vital, because football is in a terrible state financially, everywhere,” says Delia.

“Because of players’ wages and the knock-on effect from that, the money that comes through the gates doesn’t pay for the football. So anything on top of that is obviously very important.”
Despite the huge growth in the catering operation at Norwich City, Delia has stayed true to her beliefs: “It’s all homemade food. In large scale catering there is something called re-generation where you can prepare meals ahead and then put them in re-generation steaming ovens to reheat them. We don’t do anything like that. Everything here is totally homemade and fresh.”

However, even with A-List celebrity Stephen Fry as the latest addition to Norwich City’s boardroom, the business has felt the effects of the economic downturn.
“It is not an easy time,” says Delia.

“I think companies are not spending on away days or conferencing events as much as they were, which is something that we need to keep working away at.
“Because of the difficult financial problems at the moment we want to continue doing what we do as well as we can before we move on”.

Norwich City has ambitious plans both on and off the pitch and Delia says her Canary Catering will play an integral role in the delivery and funding of these.
Future ‘Evening With?’ events at Carrow Road, Delia believes, will build on the list of celebrities from this year which included The Hairy Bikers, Stephen Fry, Gok Wan and Nigella Lawson.

Paul Colston

Author

Paul Colston

Managing Editor, Conference News & Conference & Meetings World.

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