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There are few experiences as quintessentially English as watching a test match at ‘the home of cricket’ and, as Karen Doyle discovers, the hospitality is top notch too
No matter what your cricketing inclinations, there’s a special feeling when you pass through the hallowed gates of Lord’s. It’s not just the sight of the MCC members with their red-and-yellow striped ties and blazers, or the distinctive turrets of the world-famous pavilion; it’s the sense of history, knowing that for almost 200 years this has been the undisputed home of cricket.
But history and tradition are not all a day at Lord’s has to offer. Cricket, with its relaxed pace and full-day schedule, provides one of the most valuable networking opportunities afforded by the hospitality industry. On a major match-day – of which there are typically just 12 every season – corporate hospitality can range from a casual buffet with reserved Grandstand seats to a four-course Champagne luncheon in a box.
You get ample face time with your guests, from breakfast on arrival, to lunch and afternoon tea – not to mention three (hopefully) sunny sessions of play, all oiled with continuous liquid refreshment.
A summer on the boundary line may seem a long way off, but cricket fans are already rubbing their hands together in anticipation of an action-packed 2009 season. Lord’s will host the second npower Ashes Test Match, another against Sri Lanka and seven Twenty20 World Cup matches.
Packages for next year are selling fast, with top-level debentures already sold out. ‘Cricket hospitality is a big ticket for clients,’ says Steven Krivinskas, associate at law firm White & Case, which takes an annual box at Lord’s. ‘There’s a lot of competition for major games. And even if they’re not cricket fans, overseas clients are always blown away by the Englishness of Lord’s.’
Tradition might weigh heavy on its shoulders, but that hasn’t held Lord’s back. Over the past two decades, the MCC has spent some £50m on improvements to the ground. And the investment continues. New floodlights will ensure that bad light won’t stop play at the Twenty20, while revamped hospitality suites will provide the footprint for all 80 of the ground’s boxes.
‘I think we’ve succeeded in losing that stuffy elitist private members’ club image and become more inclusive to London as a whole,’ says Simon Swift, MCC assistant secretary and head of catering at Lord’s. ‘We’re a pretty forward-thinking organisation.’
HOSPITALITY ON OFFER:
The spit-and-sawdust Taverners Bar has been replaced by a bright brasserie-style restaurant (pictured top left). With reserved seats in the Mound Stand, it’s a great modern alternative to more traditional hospitality packages. The day kicks off with a luxury breakfast buffet hosted by a past international captain, followed by a three-course lunch from the à la carte menu, lashings of Champagne and fine wines, plus a handsome ‘Inspiring Occasions’ gift. Individual table sizes are more flexible than in other facilities, so ticket-holders can book for 2, 4, 6, 8 or 10 inside, but our favourite spot is the alfresco terrace that overlooks the busy Grace Concourse.
Price: £599 + VAT (Price based on Sunday ODI)
Home to cricket’s great and good – the MCC, ICC and ECB boxes are all here – the Grandstand is a big ticket option. Boxes are bought on a long-term basis, with a minimum of two years’ tenure. As we go to press, there are a handful coming up for renewal, but the superb line-up of cricket next season means that even with a 2008 price tag of £67,500, the current owners are unlikely to let them go. One of the areas most improved by the recent revamp is the bright glass-clad restaurant (pictured middle left & bottom). We love its stylish design touches and the airiness of the mezzanine seating. The upmarket buffet set-up doesn’t compromise on food quality and ticket-holders can be back to Upper Grandstand seats, just across the aisle, in time for the afternoon session. The MCC has now launched its final set of debenture seats, available in the Upper Grandstand. A debenture gives the holder the guaranteed right to purchase a ticket for all matches at Lord’s for eight seasons from 2009. Holders will have access to private bars but no dining rights. For more information call 020 7616 8726.
Price: Debentures, £8,000 inc VAT
The lightest and airiest of the enclosed banqueting suites, this 900-cover structure (pictured right) seats guests around tables of eight, so smaller groups should be prepared to share. It’s located a short walk away from the reserved seats in the Mound Stand and so is nicely detached from the hubbub of the ground. On the downside, this distance can result in missing some cricket after lunch (though wall-mounted plasmas offer some compensation). Take advantage of the lovely views across the Nursery Ground by arriving early enough to watch the players warming up over breakfast. The players’ friends and family are next door, so you might catch some WAG comings and goings too.
Price: £499 + VAT (Price based on Sunday ODI)
THOMAS LORD SUITE
Just behind the Tavern Stand next to the main Grace Gate, the recently refurbished Thomas Lord Suite becomes a traditional dining room on match days. It’s open to all ticket holders but, as members get priority, non-members are only able to book two months before the game (so make a note in the diary). A short walk through the crowds if you’re seated in the Mound Stand or Grandstand, the facility has a plum spot in the hub of the off-field action and offers a pleasant buzz.
Price: £70 (2008 price) for breakfast and lunch at one-day fixtures or lunch and afternoon tea at test matches
A similar – if slightly less salubrious – option to the nearby Nursery Pavilion, available only for the Ashes, the Indoor School is a large-scale facility in the cricket school gymnasium. Like the Nursery Pavilion, it’s just a short walk from the stands and offers a similar package, including seats in the Mound Stand, minus a few of the frills and the Nursery Ground view. A good option for tighter budgets.
Price: £499 + VAT
NB: Ashes packages are now sold out.
TAVERN STAND BOXES
They might be slightly older in look and feel than boxes in other stands, but the 18-capacity Tavern Boxes have some of the best views available to non-members. They’re also the only boxes in the ground offered for daily hire. However, MCC members have priority through a ballot system. Your best chance of securing one for any key dates remaining in 2009 is to call the hospitality team immediately after the members’ ballot on 7 November. It’s also worth signing up to the hospitality mailing list. See ‘Tried & Tested’ overleaf for details of the facilities. >>
Price: £10,500 inc VAT + catering
It’s been all change in the Stirling Prize-winning Mound Stand (pictured above) – and very much for the better. Its new marquee-style roof, replaced in 2006, is now complemented by developments beneath it. The rather dingy boxes at the rear of the stand have been knocked through to create a really nice carvery-style restaurant (pictured right), which means the screens that enclosed those box-holders’ private seats have also gone. Consequently, the roof terrace is even airier and now affords uninterrupted views across the ground from tables as well as the two Champagne bars. We love this facility, but unfortunately, only gold and silver debenture holders have access to them. As with the Grandstand, the Mound Stand boxes are bought on a long-term basis, with a minimum of two years’ tenure, and the few that come up for renewal are likely to be kept on by their current owners.
INVESTEC MEDIA CENTRE
You can’t miss the space-age media ‘bubble’ (pictured in the background of top image), sponsored by investment banking giant Investec. Along with the members-only Pavilion, the press centre here boasts the most sought-after views in the ground, just behind the bowler’s arm. On match days, it’s packed with journalists and ex-player commentators so your only real chance of securing a place in one of the pair of sleek white boardroom suites is to make friends with the sponsors!
An off-site option in a functional four-star hotel just across the road from the ground. Reserved seats are in the Mound Stand, a short walk through the East Gate, but you’ll always feel somewhat removed from the action (and your complimentary bar). A good back-up if onsite facilities are full though.
Price: £429 + VAT (Price based on Sunday ODI)
A nice option for tighter budgets, or when hospitality is sold out, are the posh picnic hampers from Carluccio’s and Baker & Spice. Also a good fall-back, as orders only need to be placed 72 hours before the match. Pick from Carluccios’s two choices of La Scampagnata (antipasti, salads, bread) and the heartier Il Rustica, or opt for Baker & Spices’ enticing selection of salads, pastries and sandwiches. All packages are designed for two people sharing and include wine (75cl).
Price: From £25-£65; For more information call 020 7616 8590
TRIED & TESTED
If cricket is the ultimate sport for entertaining, a box at Lord’s must be up there with the best places to do it. Suffice to say, recruiting 18 colleagues and clients for a day’s hospitality at England’s first test against New Zealand was not a difficult task. And it says even more about the cachet of Lord’s hospitality that guests arrived at 10am sharp.
Early arrivals were rewarded handsomely. The day started, as every good day should, with a pile of bacon and sausage butties. The quality of the catering is a theme that ran throughout breakfast, lunch and an old-fashioned afternoon tea. All looked after in-house, food was carefully pitched for across-the-board appeal: flavours light and fresh and dishes a well-judged mixture of hearty and healthy. All in all, the lunch menu felt very contemporary.
The level of interest in the on-field action varied across our groups, but the compact layout of the box, with its terrace of seating, meant that no one stayed in the same place for very long, giving guests more than enough opportunity to mingle. By the end of the day, you will have chatted to every guest.
Of course, the quality and quantity of the cricket depends heavily on the weather. When the sun was shining, our front terrace became the hub of the activity, but a warm box was undoubtedly the best place to retire to when the clouds came over.
Note that newspapers – the cricket fan’s best friend – aren’t supplied, so remember to bring your own. It’s also worth bringing along some interesting products or marketing material to leave around the room for clients to pick up. If the drizzle does set in, a tour around the museum or a wander around the shops are good options to have up your sleeve, but most groups retire inside to enjoy the top-notch food and drink.
Service throughout was refreshingly unstuffy. The catering team at Lord’s work hard to recruit the right staff and it shows. Fresh-faced and eager-to-please, there was nothing overbearing or stiff about the smiling waiter and waitress who wove their way nimbly between chatting guests.
The interiors might not be as pristine as some of the newer facilities, but the Tavern Stand boxes have a cosy character of their own. Ours was right next door to the players’ wives’ suite, so WAG-spotting proved an amusing diversion, though the position in the corner of the ground affords some of the best box views.
Come rain or shine, hospitality runs for half an hour after the cricket has finished, so the crowds were thinning when we emerged from the comfort of our box. Naturally, local pubs were all madly busy after close of play but the convivial (read: well-oiled) crowd compensated for a few minutes’ wait at the bar. It hadn’t been a great day for English cricket, but we were still buzzing.
This article first appeared in Square Meal Venues & Events magazine, Autumn 2008.