Ahead of TheStadiumBusiness Summit 2022, Simon Jones, head of F&B and corporate hospitality for English National League football club Woking, discusses how Laithwaite Community Stadium has fared during the COVID-19 reopening, along with what is on the agenda for the club in the coming months.
Prior to the 2021-22 season, 90% of Woking’s matchday F&B was managed externally, with the club running one bar outlet, plus a smaller bar. Jones joined Woking in July after serving as general manager of catering company Graysons since May 2019. He previously worked in the same capacity for the New World Trading Company, Casual Dining Group and Greene King.
TheStadiumBusiness: How is the reopening/return of fans going for Woking and the Laithwaite Community Stadium?
Simon Jones: “The 2021-22 season, for the first time, saw us take our F&B operation in-house. Joining the club around four weeks prior to the start of the season it was a blank canvas with great opportunity and potential. Blessed with unwavering support and enthusiasm from our board and the collaboration of other departments, we were able to overhaul the entire F&B operation in a short space of time.
“Those labours are already bearing fruit – fans are heading to the ground in greater numbers and earlier, while staying later and spending more as we continually enhance our match day experience. Live music, increased POS, rapid EPOS systems and community-driven ‘themed days’ are just a few examples of what we’ve introduced.
“The new ‘Fan Zone’ is a testament to hard-work and creativity. The feedback is fantastic, fans love it, and we place local business at the heart of it. It’s certainly not been without its challenges, and we continue to learn with every day, however we’ve already built a solid foundation for F&B as we wind down the season and get ready for the next one, which will be bigger and better.”
TSB: What’s on the roadmap for the club/stadium over the next six to 12 months?
SJ: “The Laithwaite Community Stadium has some truly fantastic spaces, yet we’ve struggled in the past to successfully get these spaces into the eyes of the community in a meaningful way. It’s evident clubs, particularly in the National League and below, cannot survive on match day revenue alone, so for me, the next six to 12 months will be about stealing a march on our competitors as the pre-pandemic recovery occurs, and positioning the stadium as a multi-purpose hire, entertainment and event venue.
“Woking is a town bereft of quality venue and entertainment spaces so the opportunity is huge. It’s about smart marketing and educating the consumer base – you’d be surprised how many people I speak to aren’t aware we have hire options.
“The groundwork is in place. We’ve created a new standalone stadium/venue website, hospitality brochures, and a packed events schedule for the off-season. The focus needs to be on executing these events flawlessly and building on the momentum into next season and beyond.”
TSB: What are you looking forward to most about the Summit?
SJ: “This is my first foray into stadium/football F&B management, so I’m taking every experience as a new opportunity to network, learn and share best practice. I’m a huge fan of technology and how it can be better used to improve speed of service and the guest experience, so will be excited to see what other clubs are doing, particularly their use of pre-ordering drink/food systems.”
JOIN SIMON JONES – AND HUNDREDS OF COLLEAGUES FROM THE SECTOR – AT THESTADIUMBUSINESS SUMMIT 2022 IN MANCHESTER ON 5-6 JULY. SIGN UP HERE.