The story of secretive chocolatier Willy Wonka is known around the world and has been inspiring children and adults alike for generations. And while no one will ever quite match his ability to mix chocolate by waterfall, there are a few people attempting to do something special with the famous sweet treat.
Cadbury World in Bournville (yes, the same as the chocolate), Birmingham, has teamed up with midlands caterer Amadeus, which is the catering arm of the NEC Group, to create a dining experience for its guests with innovation at its heart.
Customers embarking on a tour of the venue can head into the newly extended Cadbury Café to sample the treats of the chilli-chocolate con carne or what some are calling the greatest hot chocolate on the planet.
“We work very closely with Cadbury World,” says Marc Frankl, food and beverage director for Amadeus. “It’s a very joined-up approach when we look at menus and pricing.”
Amadeus commits a kitchen manager, chef de partie and commis chef to the Cadbury World operation as well as 39 service staff including two team leaders and a
deputy catering manager.
“It really is a Cadbury World team, and just because they are Amadeus employees, they are still very excited to be working at Cadbury World and dong the best job they can do for both parties,” says Frankl, who looks within his Amadeus team of chefs for innovation.
“We do drive the menu development. We have around 80 chefs that work across Amadeus, so there is quite a deep pool of knowledge and inspiration when it comes to F&B innovation.
“There is a friendly rivalry within the exec chef’s team to see who can come up with a new level of invention or the next concept or pop-up.
“These guys want to be pushing the boundaries. We have the benefit of harnessing that generation of ideas which we can take to our clients and share to benefit them as well as us.”
One of those pieces of innovation comes in the form of the hot chocolate – a particular favourite with adults – especially as Bournville remains alcohol-free in keeping with its traditional Quaker roots.
“One of the highest-volume products is the hot chocolate,” says Frankl. “It’s often surprising given that customers get lots of free chocolate on the tour. But they still come to the café and order a hot chocolate.
“We work with the chocolatiers to try to come up with the best hot chocolates available. And we must be close to it. We use the Bournville chocolate and hot milk and whipped creams and popping candy. It’s just really fun to invent.”
There are hot chocolates of the month with melted chocolate buttons, fudge, Fredo and Mini Eggs.
“We can’t let customers leave Cadbury World with a poor experience of chocolate.”
Last year £140,000 was spent extending the café area and improving the F&B offering in order to account for an increasing amount of visitors wanting to use the facilities. And it’s not just those touring who want to sample the menu in the café, with local residents of Bournville regularly visiting the free-to-enter café for hot drinks and snacks. There is even a Sunday roast available for those wanting a traditional meal at the weekend.
In fact, between January and December 2016 some 186,000 visitors were served in the Cadbury Café.
“Local residents do use the café, but the majority is online bookings of people who have done the tour and come into the café,” adds Frankl.
Profit has increased by a third (33 %) over three years since Amadeus took on the contract as it continues to look at customer insight and develop the offer, for example the development of the Cadbury Cabin – a pop-up outside catering vendor that offers guests another choice of F&B venue, especially during the summer months.
“The Cadbury Cabin is more of a pop-up venue that allows us to take catering to visitors who are spending a fair bit of dwell time outside and drive sales,” explains Frankl.
“We have another couple of pop-ups, too, with the ice cream cart and hut.
“The cabin offers a slightly less extensive food offering but we have made it so we can offer hot food like burgers, hot dogs and fish and chips as well as
sandwiches and more food to go.
“We hope that it will improve the customer experience as well as generate some additional income for us and our clients.”
One of the newest offers to be added is that of the Afternoon Tea Experience, as the caterers continue to make the café area a place to spend time.
Complete with savoury sandwiches and sweet treats served on bone china crockery, it is a classic British experience with, of course, a chocolate-themed twist, combining classic items with delicious macaroons,chocolate brownies and rocky road, made to an
exclusive Cadbury recipe!
Sandwich fillings include salmon, soft cheese with cucumber, ham and English mustard and cheese and pickle, on white or brown bread, accompanied by a choice of hot chocolate, coffee or a selection of teas.
“One of the biggest things we wanted to do when we opened was make the café another attraction,” says Frankl.
“Before, it was just somewhere to go and wait or grab a coffee. But now it is certainly part of the experience.
“As you approach Cadbury World the first thing you see is our newly-built conservatory with tables and chairs and people enjoying F&B. It is welcoming.
“It is right next to the front reception, so you can go in there prior to your tour and wait with a coffee, or you can enter it after the tour for something more to eat.”
The café is a retail operation, generally offering a self-service catering style, though on extremely busy days, assisted service is employed to speed up the provision.
“One of the things that customers notice when they walk into the café is the freshness,” says Frankl.
“Once you get past the clouds and purple cows, you get to the first counter and are then hit with a really nice display of food. You eat with your eyes, so we want the people to understand when they walk in that they are going to have a nice fresh product.
“We have deli sandwiches at the front, lots of colour and flavour and the smell of fresh bread. And it’s all freshly made there. It’s not fresh from the freezer or pinged in the microwave, it’s done on-site, and really well.”
There are, of course, the more obvious F&B products that can tie into the chocolate theme, with things like milkshakes made with Crunchies, Fruit and Nut bars and Oreos, but there are more subtle chocolatey inputs across the wider menu.
“Given the wide range of visitors, we do have to try and look at dishes that are suitable for everybody,” says Frankl.
“It is a fun attraction and child-friendly – most people that visit are having a fun day out and we have tried to capture that within our menu.
“It is family-focused, but there are the healthy options available, too.
“We have a beef chilli, where we source local and British beef. But then we have the option of putting small balls of chocolate in it to offer that chilli-
“There’s also a baby back rib with a cocoa rub, again with that barbecue thick molasses sweetness making for a really interesting flavour combination.
“There are the favourites like a British burger, or the sustainable fish and chips using twice-cooked English potatoes.
“There is a glaze that can be chosen for one of the salads that contains chocolate if customers want it. It’s a bit of an acquired taste with some balsamic and dark chocolate reduction, but it is still an option. It’s a bit of a talking point.”
Also on the menu are specialties like the Brummie balti curry, and the crusted chicken breast with garlic butter, vegetables and roasted new potatoes. There are breakfast options with the back bacon, British pork sausage and free-range egg muffin or deli sandwiches with fillings such as smoked ham with plum tomato and coarse grain mustard, jacket potatoes with a range of fillings and salads including tuna niçoise or cheese ploughman’s.
“The feedback is often that customers are surprised about the choice, the quality and value for money when they eat there,” says Frankl.
And continuing to surprise customers is the name of the game when it comes to sports and leisure venues, explains Frankl.
“When you look at a visitor attraction, customers aren’t going there for the catering specifically. They’re not going there to eat in the café,” he says.
“So what we do is try to enhance and improve the overall customer experience. If we can assist in that at all, whether it’s in Cadbury World or one of the arenas
we cater for, then have achieved our aim of creating memorable experiences.”