In contrast to the swathes of volunteers that crowd the London Olympic site armed with megaphones and giant foam fingers, staff numbers at some of the park’s contracted caterers appear to be somewhat thin on the ground.
In what organisers have dubbed “the largest peace-time catering operation in the world”, the four catering companies operating within the Olympic Park – Sodexo, Baxter Storey, Aramark and Amadeus – are sharing the responsibility of filling the mouths of the visiting hordes.
However, when I visited the stadium to witness Wednesday’s opening ceremony dress rehearsal, queues in the southern section of the park were so long that volunteers were forced to turn away hungry spectators.
“You’ll have to wait until the line quietens down,” I was told by an (albeit smiling) Olympic volunteer upon to my attempt to pay £6 for what the menu described as a “sausage baguette with onion marmalade”.
However, belatedly joining the queue turned out to be only half the battle. As our excruciatingly slow crawl to the service area went on, we were then shocked to find a dearth of staff behind the counter.
Although the two cashiers on duty were efficient and friendly, the bottleneck of customers waiting to be served their BBQ chicken wings and vegetable skewers rendered the cashiers’ calls of “Can I help anyone?” all but pointless when the queue was barely moving.
The adjoining bar service area was well staffed – very wise indeed – but at least one of Sodexo Prestige’s food service areas appeared from my point of view to have far too few employees attempting to placate masses of hungry, grumpy customers.
Some 41 minutes after joining the queue, my companion and I each emerged from Sodexo Prestige’s catering tent with a warm sausage baguette and even warmer bottle of fizzy drink in hand.
They were just two of a total 14m meals that are expected to be served across 40 Olympic locations during the Games. It goes without saying that all the caterers involved have a tough task on their hands to cope with demand.
However, as the G4S staffing debacle has proved, a lack of staff in the right locations is a sure-fire way to get on the wrong side of public opinion, and a failure to quickly and adequately cater to the raft of Olympics ticket-holders could send many away with a sour taste in their mouths.
Things may improve when the nearby McDonalds – apparently capable of dishing up fast food to 1,200 people an hour – opens its doors. But then again, visitor numbers were relatively low on Wednesday, and the pressure on caterers is unlikely to recede.
Sodexo Prestige – a subsidiary of the France-based Sodexo, the world’s second largest caterer by sales – holds the contracts for spectator catering across the south area of the Olympic park, as well as the aquatics centre and water polo arena.
According to Sodexo’s website: “Due to the high volume of applicants we have received, we have suspended our recruitment activity for the London 2012 Olympic Games.”
If the slow service at Wednesday’s rehearsal was any indication of what visitors can expect during the rest of the Games, Sodexo Prestige – like G4S – may want to find itself a few more front-line staff.
Sodexo on Thursday declined to comment.