Catering contract is club's lifeline
The BBC Club is switching direction, and it must find success there or put its future in jeopardy.
It will turn staff caterer next month, taking over the W12 canteens that Aramark have run since 2007.
The catering contract represents a lifeline for the club, which was founded in 1924 and is about to lose its flagship bar at Television Centre with the building's closure at the end of March.
It has also been squeezed out of new buildings such as New Broadcasting House and Salford, as the BBC downsizes its property portfolio and space is at a premium. This leaves it with just the Western House bar in W1 and a small facility at BBC Elstree.
End Quote Dino Portelli Chief Operating Officer, BBC Club
People tend to associate the club with the bar, but this is not what we are about any more”
'It's definitely a case of change in order to survive,' admits Dino Portelli, chief operating officer of the BBC Club London and North. 'People tend to associate the club with the bar, but this is not what we are about any more. Food is becoming a massive part of our offering.'Jobs for Aramark staff
The BBC Club will run refurbished canteens in the Broadcast and Media Centres, catering for around 3000 staff each day.
'Paul Greeves [head of workplace] said he'd heard a lot of positive comments about our food and asked if we'd be interested in taking over in W12,' says Portelli, whose background is in corporate catering, including a period with Aramark.
He pulled together a proposal, won the contract with his vision for fresh, healthy and ethically sourced food and recruited the Aramark staff whose jobs had been at risk.
At the Broadcast Centre the club will provide a variety of hot and cold dishes from 6am to 10pm, with a cook-to-order chef on duty between 5-10pm for evening workers.
Lunchtimes will be the busiest time of day, and Portelli is keen that staff stagger their meal breaks to avoid midday jams.
'People used to go at 12 to the White City canteen because that was when the food was freshest,' he reasons. 'We want to impress on them that food will not be left sitting and will be as fresh at 2pm as it is at noon.'
Overnight staff - mainly Red Bee workers - will be able to pre-order fresh food to collect before 10pm and reheat later.
The Media Centre canteen will open on April 2, mirroring the menu at the Broadcast Centre between 8am and 5pm.
But will staff notice the difference?
'I hope so,' says Portelli. 'We were known for our catering at TVC and we'll continue to provide some of the club classics, like curry or gammon and eggs, but we'll also offer a higher-end menu.'
Dishes are likely to include baked mango and ginger swordfish, miso Pollock fillet and chicken tagine, alongside falafel pitta pockets, pork and apple burger and soft egg noodle salad.
He promises pop-up bars at both venues (Thursdays and Fridays in the Broadcast Centre's Big Space and every weekday at the Media Centre); but neither will be a place to let your hair down.
End Quote Dino Portelli
We want to encourage a co-operative-type thinking, with profits going back into the club, and improving services for staff”
'We have to be mindful that it's an open space,' cautions Portelli. 'People may be working nearby. It will not be like the TVC bar but it will be a sort of retreat. It will be the place for an informal meeting or a quiet glass of wine.'
The Big Space, which will be refitted with a new coffee bar and grab-and-go shop, will also become a location for staff events and sales (like the popular book and perfume sales previously held at White City). People will be invited to spill outside during the summer for barbecues and even al fresco table service.
So with club catering open to all, and no bar to call their own, what's the point of being a member of the BBC Club?
Well, members will get discounts on food and beverages - 30p off a hot meal and 10p off a coffee - as well as automatic loyalty cards. Extra discounts will be offered during the launch month.
'If you are a regular user of the catering facilities, your club membership could pay for itself,' insists Portelli. 'There is the potential for prices to go down if membership rises,' he adds. 'We want to encourage a co-operative-type thinking, with profits going back into the club, and improving services for staff.'
The White City gym will close on March 15, before a new club gym opens three days later on the Media Centre ground floor (in the commercial space previously occupied by Relax).
Smaller than the White City space, it will not have treatment rooms, but will hold small classes.
The club has retained all its gym staff, but will have to pay the lease cost of the premises for the first time. Portelli is hopeful that gym prices will not have to rise as a consequence.
Meanwhile, the club will continue investing in its connect clubs - or club sections - that give members the chance to do anything from ride a horse, skipper a yacht and shoot a rifle to learn a language, decorate a cupcake and strum a guitar - all at low cost.
The club subsidised these activities to the tune of £40,000 last year and plans to do the same again this year.
'We have sailing in Southampton, flying in Dunstable and gliding in Manchester,' says Portelli. 'They are all over the country, and we try to make them as accessible as we can by offering affiliate memberships for just £3.50 a month.'
End Quote Dino Portelli
If it wasn't for the BBC giving us the opportunity to do the catering, I'd be looking for a job right now.”
The BBC Club may have to navigate its own course these days, but Portelli doesn't feel abandoned by the BBC mothership, which, he says, continues to provide space and support.
'If it wasn't for the BBC giving us the opportunity to do the catering, I'd be looking for a job right now,' he says starkly. 'They can see that we bring value to staff without it costing them anything.'
And if club bars - where once deals were struck, promotions won and programmes dreamt up - are to go the same way as biscuits and chauffeur-driven cars, then Portelli is not downhearted about it.
'It's exciting to have the chance to start expanding,' he counters. 'We will make mistakes in the first few weeks as we move from feeding 700 a day to 3000. But we've got to make it work for the future of the club.'