Is UK Racecourse Catering Up To Scratch?

Is UK Racecourse Catering Up To Scratch?

Food In The Spotlight

With Royal Ascot, the Derby meeting and various other high profile racing fixtures to the fore in the spring and early summer the focus on social media has often been the price of attending such events, and in more recent times thanks in no small part to the Racing Post’s excellent series on the cost of food and drink at the track.

With the spiralling cost of attending not just the big meetings mentioned above but a standard day out at your local track the cost of the day out is something that more and more punters will be looking at, particularly with other, more affordable sporting options available locally.

I’ve regularly attended race meetings since I was a child, dating back to a snowy day at Haydock in 1998 on which the diminutive Dom Samourai come home in front for Martin Pipe in what was then known as the Greenall’s Grand National Trial and I’ve seen, particularly in recent years in the UK the cost of drinks, burgers, noodles, sandwiches etc. spiral through the roof so to speak. I’ve become particularly aware of this increase in prices since moving to France where on course catering is shall we say a lot more reasonable.

UK Experience

I have to confess that a lot of my recent, since Covid began at least knowledge of catering options on British racecourse and pricing is second hand, the only UK meeting I’ve been to since Covid started was at Plumpton last November when I was there primarily for a day out with friends.

For the record I didn’t eat at Plumpton and was somewhat disappointed to learn that the noodle bar/stand is no longer there. I had a few non-alcoholic drinks with friends and they had the odd alcoholic one. The £2.50 for a CocaCola/Pepsi is one area in which the UK courses don’t fare too badly when compared with what I was used to, a can on a French course is pretty much always 3 Euros.

I can however point out that in my experience of attending various other sporting events, mostly non-league football, rugby league and ice hockey in the UK that all three provide excellent value for money just on the entry fee alone and that’s before we get started on the catering which for some is done in house and as such is cheaper than at racecourses. 

Continental Comparison

UK racecourses themselves already do some catering, for example the stable lads canteen which has been in the news in recent months and while some of the food might not look the best it’s at least affordable (albeit subsidised by the stable staffs employers). 

I may be accused of viewing some aspects of the sport through rose-tinted spectacles, the catering situation isn’t always the best where I am currently with long queues the norm in the summer but the food is affordable, it would be very hard to find somewhere charging 10 Euros for a burger made on a catering stand while the racecourse restaurant, – typically in excess of £75 in the UK is generally around the 25 Euro mark. Chateaubriant was the first I ate in last year and that was 25 Euros or 27.50 Euros if having the Chateaubriant steak option for the main, all in it was 30 Euros each including wine.

Outsourcing? 

While a cup of coffee in a café chain or a traditional tea or coffee shop may set you back £2.50 or so for a standard coffee with milk, latte, Americano, mocha etc increasingly on course we’re seeing customers being charged more and more for what is effectively a standard drink.

Undoubtedly the general standard and source of catering has changed in the last 10-15 years with a move away from things being done in house, the old coffee and tea urns of old and racecourse staff having been replaced with outside companies stepping in and presumably operating on a contract basis.

Taking that into account it’s wrong to heap all of the blame on racecourses, but if a company is being charged say £1,000 to stand it’s simply not feasible for them to be selling the teas and coffees at £2.50 a cup and a captive audience has nowhere else to go.

One argument in favour of high entry prices that I’ve seen made in the past is that you get 4 or 5 hours entertainment vs. a little of 90 minutes at the football and 80 minutes at the rugby. 

However this argument is pretty heavily reliant upon the idea that attending the paddock, going to the winners’ enclosure or watching other races on a television in the bar is part of the experience.

While I’d personally view looking at horses in the parade ring as a vital part of the day out and experience I suspect I’m in the minority, particularly when it comes to the people who attend racing for the day out with friends and who will often consume copious amounts of alcohol. 

“Does the price matter to them?” is another question worth asking and given the popularity of the sport I have to question whether it does, while I’m sure the price of the teas and coffees is enough to put the average racing fan off at times, particularly when being asked to pay upwards of £30 to watch fairly average (relatively speaking) horses in middle to low grade handicap contests.

With the above in mind it’s important that racecourses provide something that at least semi-resembles value and I personally see no reason why courses can’t offer affordable hot drink options, particularly at the smaller meetings during the winter.

As it stands however with the attendances that seem to matter to courses, those at weekends, big meetings and for the various music nights seemingly unaffected by the pricing it’s hard to see too much changing in the near future. 

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