Case Study: DWTC Catering

The story behind DWTC catering for two million covers in 2014
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Harald Oberender is director of kitchens for Dubai World Trade Centre.
Harald Oberender is director of kitchens for Dubai World Trade Centre.
FOOD & BEVERAGE

From major regional exhibitions and conferences, to weddings and concerts, Dubai World Trade Centre (DWTC) is the go-to destination for many event organisers and corporates. It spans more than one million square feet in total across its flagship multipurpose halls, mostly catered to in-house food and beverage requirements.

In 2014, DWTC did two million covers, and Caterer Middle East spoke to its director of kitchens, Harald Oberender, to find out how the team manages these numbers, and the challenges faced.

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PLANNING

DWTC can cater to 15,000 guests daily on-site and off-site, and Oberender says experience and planning are key. “Our ability to attract and manage some of the largest events and gatherings is due to our wealth of experience in this sector and our highly versatile primary team of 150 chefs from 19 countries.

“Before undertaking any event, our team invests a substantial amount of time in the planning stage, meticulously researching the latest culinary trends in order to tailor our offering to clients and their stakeholders. We then follow–up on our research with detailed client meetings, which further impact the direction we take for the different events we handle.”

He shares the experience of catering to the Abu Dhabi Formula One. The team at DWTC invested over six weeks and 2800 training hours to plan for the 27,000 meals to be served throughout the weekend. The variety in the number of attendees meant that it was important to ensure the provision of a culturally innovative menu selection and sensitivities (like gluten–free and nut–free). Moreover, innovation was important — after catering for the event for four years, the team wanted to reinvent its offerings for a variety of palates.

So what does it take to host an event of this scale? “Our production kitchen has Dubai’s largest non–industrial catering production infrastructure, logistically equipped to handle concurrent large scale on–site and off–site events. Scaling 39,300ft2, our modern facility has more than 300 professionally trained service staff ensuring top class health and hygiene standards are adhered to,” reveals Oberender.

IMPLEMENTATION

Equipment does not function on its own nor do halls fill themselves up. A dedicated and experienced team, like the one at DWTC, is at the core of its success. But when the kitchen functions all day, there are bound to be hiccups and challenges.

“There are several things that can go wrong when it comes to mass catering, whether it’s time constraints, sourcing issues or health and safety. However, we believe that it is important to be able pre–empt catering challenges by being meticulous and organised. We have a highly experienced team of chefs, kitchen stewards and food safety managers who work on trying to create a stress-free event from start to finish,” says Oberender.

In addition, DWTC has implemented strict quality assurance standards, pre– and post–production, that adhere to the UAE government and international Hazard Analysis & Critical Control Point (HACCP) regulations. It also employs food safety managers to ensure that the cooking techniques, utensils, ingredients and staff uniforms are on par.

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The supply chain and sourcing, as many would assume, given the high order quantities, is not a challenge. “Dubai has a large network of high quality suppliers for hospitality requirements.”

However, managing costs is another ball game altogether. Like most of the organisations, if not all, DWTC also has a challenging budget target but manages to strike a balance with planning.

“My senior staff and I cannot avoid numbers and have studied ‘Finance for Non Finance Managers’. The bottom line is to be true to yourself and your customer and do not try to take shortcuts. Always deliver what you promised in quality and product.”

DWTC claims that it has never said no to an event, and has catered to some of the most bizarre requests as well. “Once we received a request to create a life size horse made out of real edible cake!”

In addition, DWTC has its food wastage in strict control and uses the ADACO food cost management system on a daily basis. “If there is food wastage, it is potentially with our larger events, and at around 5%,” says Oberender.

IN PRACTICE

When a kitchen is producing thousands of meals a day, consistency of flavours can be a challenge. To manage it, Oberender says: “Consistency is an important indicator for success for us. To ensure consistency, it starts right from the beginning with: sourcing and receiving high quality ingredients from reliable suppliers; using a computerised recipe management system to update the quantities; monitoring the cooking method closely to ensure it matches the recipe; and, ensuring that the final dish presentation is identical to each other. We have teams and checklists at each stage to ensure uniformity.”

In addition, DWTC hosts several regular training sessions for its staff members for basic skills development. It also uses Lobster Ink, a hospitality education system, for training, as well as live cooking classes when inducting new staff.

With continuous training and human resource development, aided with a refurbished kitchen that will enhance DWTC’s daily production levels by 20%, the mass catering master is not capping its potential and will continue to evolve and develop to become a force to reckon with — even more so than it is now.

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