Rational ups the catering game at Hibernian FC
The perfect match with Rational cooking systems.
Catering for major events presents a huge number of challenges. They include preparing a large amount of food to be ready at the same time and ensuring the results are consistent and safe, as well as of a high standard. In a traditional kitchen this will require a lot of experienced staff working long hours, using many different appliances. If the event you’re catering for is a football match, these challenges are multiplied further. Meeting the pre-match and half-time rush means you need to be able to produce and serve a lot of food in a very short space of time. Modern cooking systems, like those from Rational, can make it easier to meet the challenges.
Gordon Halladay, kiosk manager at Hibernian Football Club’s Easter Road stadium, oversees the fourteen kiosks that serve over 20,000 hungry fans on matchdays. “We offer an eclectic mix of food here,” says Gordon. “The traditional pies and Bovril, of course, but also hotdogs, fish and chips and artisan doughnuts to name but a few. As well as this we also have to provide for different dietary requirements. Obviously, Natasha’s Law requires us to produce allergen free food, and we’re also seeing growing numbers of people looking for meat- or gluten-free alternatives, so we have to be able to meet a wide range of needs.”
Previously run by outside companies, the kiosks were brought in-house ahead of the 2021/22 season. In order for them to meet the demands of match days, Gordon had each installed with an iCombi Pro cooking system from Rational.
“Covid and lockdown have affected the way we do things,” he says. “We’re managing it well, but like many businesses we are finding it difficult to recruit casual staff.” However, the iCombi Pros are helping Hibernian to navigate these issues while improving quality. “The iCombi Pro is simple to train new staff on, simple to use and allows us to get more done in much less time,” says Gordon.
Gordon was introduced to the iCombi Pro at a Rational Live demonstration. “I met one of Rational’s development chefs, Kevin Hartley, there,” says Gordon. “It was the first time I’d seen an iCombi Pro in action and Kevin talked us through everything it could do. He showed us how easy it would be to change the system at Easter Road, allowing us to produce new recipes, cooking or reheating food….. the iCombi Pros let us do all that without needing to employ a dozen chefs!
“After leaving Kevin’s presentation I knew straight away that the iCombi Pros were ideal for us,” says Gordon. “It’s all about speed of cooking and speed of service in a football stadium environment. It used to be that we would need to cook food and then hold it for up to an hour before selling it. We can still do that with the iCombi Pro if required, but the cooking times are so much faster, so it’s much easier to cook the food just before it’s needed.”
As well as the speed of cooking, the iCombi Pro is also easy to use. Recipes can be programmed and adjusted via the touchscreen, or remotely through the ConnectedCooking app, allowing staff to quickly select the food they want to cook. Sensors in the iCombi monitor and control the cooking processes, white intelligent assistants like iProductionManager make it possible to cook different foods at the same time, with each being cooked exactly as required, guaranteeing consistent results every time. “iProductionManager gives us the confidence to know that once we’ve programmed in the recipes, all the staff need to do is load up the iCombi Pro and set it going,” says Gordon.
This also makes the iCombi Pro easy to train new staff to use. “Often we’ll have staff coming in on match day who’ve never used anything like it, but we can have them cooking the whole menu within fifteen minutes of them entering the stadium,” he says. “This has really helped us navigate our recruitment issues without compromising the food we serve.”
As well as managing recipes, ConnectedCooking can record HACCP data on all the iCombi Pros in use at Easter Road. “It’s a real boon,” says Gordon. “It saves us hours of manually entering the data, and I can pull up the information instantly when I need it.”
The reduced cooking times the iCombi Pro allows also help to lower energy consumption, which was another important consideration for Gordon. “Hibernian FC is aiming to be the greenest football club in Scotland, so improving our sustainability is a big priority for us,” he says. “Being able to cook 150 pies in 12 minutes is a huge advance, and not having to use lots of difference appliances, constantly turning them on or off, means we’ve seen a significant reduction in the amount of energy we use.”
The ease of cleaning the iCombi Pro is another area where it excels in terms of reducing the environmental impact of Hibernian FC. Rational’s specially developed Active Green cleaning chemicals are phosphorous- and phosphate-free, while the iCombi Pro’s iCareSystem can reduce the amount of chemicals required by up to 50%. The iCombi Pro can detect the level of cleanliness and calculate the amount of chemicals required automatically. “Cleaning all the cooking equipment in each kiosk at the end of a match used to take hours, but now we can set the iCareSystem going and be confident that our iCombi Pros will be sparkling clean and ready to go next time,” says Gordon.
The training and support provided by Rational was another important factor in Hibernian’s decision to get iCombi Pros. “From the first presentation to the site visits helping us program our recipes and train staff, the support we receive has been second to none,” says Gordon. “The peace of mind we get knowing that if we have an issue or question we can get it answered quickly online or over the phone is tremendous.”
For any catering operation the real mark of success is whether customers like the food. “Providing the best for our supporters is the priority,” says Gordon. “Even without changing the recipes, the food we produce with the iCombi Pro is much fresher and more consistent, and we’ve seen that reflected in the feedback we’re getting. It’s made a huge difference!”
The improvements in quality and the changes to working life the iCombi Pro has brought to Easter Road are just the beginning. “We’re fortunate that we’ve got a fantastic owner who’s investing heavily in the hospitality and catering operation here,” says Gordon. “We’re planning on opening another six kiosks for next season, as well as upgrading the kitchens to increase our banqueting and conferencing capacity. We know that more iCombi Pros are going to be needed, and we’re also keen to see what Rational’s iVario Pro cooking system will be able to do for us!”
With many businesses attempting to navigate the changes of the last couple of years, Gordon is clear about the benefits of Rational equipment. “If I was giving advice to anyone developing a catering operation right now, it would be to go and see what the iCombi Pro can do. I guarantee once you see it in action you’ll want to install one in your kitchen. I’ve got complete confidence in the product and the Rational team as a whole.”