In May, over 1,900 business leaders gathered to celebrate their peers' achievements at the Scottish Business Awards and enjoyed an evening of fine food, comedy from Michael McIntyre and an audience with Sir Richard Branson. It is the second year running that the prestigious awards ceremony has been held at the EICC, such was the success of the 2013 awards in which Bill Clinton wowed guests with his captivating keynote speech.
Delivering a dinner of such significance for almost two thousand guests is no mean feat but it is all in a day’s work for the EICC and its partner Leith’s. The team regularly caters for banquets and gala dinners that form part of a conference. In May alone they welcomed the Scottish Business Awards as well as 350 guests for the Heriot-Watt University Graduation Ball; 810 guests for the Homes for Scotland Lunch and Awards; and 700 guests for the 2014 Scotland Food & Drink Excellence Awards.
Founded in 1972 by renowned cook and food writer Prue Leith, Leith’s prides itself on using the very best locally-sourced, seasonal produce and brings wonderful simplicity to everything it does. The company also believes in the importance of sustainability and has a number of initiatives to achieve and maintain its environmentally-friendly status, including recycling food waste and using the latest green kitchen equipment.
"Our food is cooked and served by people who are passionate about food," explains Leith's General Manager, Adrian Wade. "It's rather lovely that food trends are returning to what Prue lived by in the sixties – buy the best ingredients possible and cook them simply. Simplicity also manifests itself in our relationships with our clients, staff and suppliers. We treat everyone honestly, fairly and with courtesy."
Leith's ethos is evident in every event they cater for and Head Chef, Guy Taylor, will create bespoke menus around the client's tastes and requirements. There is no better example of this than the recent 2014 Scotland Food & Drink Excellence Awards. As the event was a celebration of Scotland as a land of food and drink, it was vital that the menu showcased the best of the country's larder.
"When I’m planning a menu for a banquet, I’ll take the time of year into consideration and use seasonal, local and fresh produce," explains Guy. "I'll also consider the number of guests we're cooking for as a menu for 200 guests may not be possible for 2,000 guests and I could never put a dish on the menu that I’m not fully confident about delivering. The Scotland Food & Drink Excellence Awards was a real opportunity for Leith’s to show what we could do and cooking for our peers in the industry was a great pleasure. We designed a menu using regional produce and spring ingredients that really celebrated all that Scotland has to offer."
The Scotland Food & Drink Excellence Awards also utilised the moving-floor technology in the Lennox Suite and it was set in a tiered cabaret mode that meant that every guest had an advantageous view of the awards ceremony, which was hosted by Kaye Adams. The Lennox Suite, unveiled in May last year, has a capacity of up to 2,000 for dinner when combined with the adjacent concourse. "The space here is flexible and interchangeable with beautiful and stylish fixtures and fittings," says Adrian. "It really is a blank canvas for clients. You could have a sporting event or a catwalk show – anything is possible because the building was designed with the customer in mind."
When planning the delivery of a grand dinner, Adrian and his team not only think about the space in which the event will be held, they also need to take a wealth of practicalities into consideration, including the number and demographic of the guests and the type of menu being served. At the heart of this is ensuring that the event reflects the needs of the client and their company.
"Most events have a key focus, whether it is celebrating a company's success or raising their profile and we are here to make sure the clients desired outcomes are achieved," says Adrian. "The more involvement a client has the better as our events are always tailored to what clients are looking for. There is a genuine desire by all the teams at the EICC to deliver fabulous events and the EICC is built to deliver a very high standard of service. We would never suggest something that we couldn’t do extremely well. It isn’t about Leith’s or the EICC at the end of the day, it is about the client."
"There is a genuine desire by all the teams at the EICC to deliver fabulous events and the EICC is built to deliver a very high standard of service."
Adrian likens the day of a dinner to a military operation. Everything is planned down to the tiniest detail, including the service and clearing routes walked by service staff. Timing is also critical and Adrian considers every eventuality, for example, if guests arrive late or if speeches overrun. As for the kitchen, it is no doubt a logistical challenge to cook for so many people – this year’s Scottish Business Awards required 16 chefs and a further 22 kitchen staff.
"I'll look at what other events are taking place in the building and plan my staff accordingly. We have various checklists and processes that we use whether it is an event for 100 or 1,000 people," explains Guy. "We'll always try to give a 5-star experience at the EICC whether guests are just having a sandwich or a three-course meal. It’s certainly the ethos in the kitchen and across the EICC – we want our guests to come away with a great experience."
This is a sentiment that Adrian wholeheartedly agrees with: "To be able to specialise in what you love to do guarantees a fantastic customer experience. It is so heartening to see people relaxing and enjoying themselves, particularly those who aren’t used to coming to events like this. From the minute guests walk through the door, everything is taken care of and the guests and client can concentrate on what they need to – having a wonderful time."