Behind the curtain: Festival foodservice at Glyndebourne

Food has always been part of the experience at Glyndebourne Festival. And, looking beyond the enraptured opera lovers feasting in the beautiful gardens, it is clear there is a perfectly-oiled machine at work. So what does it take to cater for an occasion like Glyndebourne?

This year, the final curtain on the English summer also brings with it the end of the 80th Glyndebourne festival.

From 17 May to 24 August, Glyndebourne House in Sussex, not far from the south coast of England, is transformed into one of the world’s most picturesque opera houses. Six different productions are performed throughout the season in a purpose built auditorium set in the beautiful environs of an English stately home.

There are 1,200 guests each night of the festival and the task of catering for this number falls to Leith’s, Compass Group’s “heritage brand”. And, if you look beyond dinner jackets and ballgowns, the rapt audiences and champagne flutes dangling from the fingertips of couples lounging on perfectly kept lawns, it is clear there is a well-oiled machine at work.

Under the stewardship of new executive chef Julian Wilson, Leith’s runs everything from staff meals to the festival’s famous picnics, champagne receptions, strawberries and cream teas to a 320-cover, fine-dining restaurant.

There is a strong local agenda, which, says Leith’s, is part of a “joint mission” to champion regional produce while endorsing the festivals wider corporate social responsibility. A catering team of 270 is hired from East Sussex, 70% of fruit and veg supplied by restaurants during festival season is British and drinks menus feature local Harvey’s beer and sparkling wines from Nyetimber and Wistons, both in the south of England.

Leith’s supply pre-packed picnics, operate the Middle & Over Wallop fine dining restaurant, the 150-cover Nether Wallop carvery, two champagne bars, two private dining rooms, two staff restaurants and one staff pub. So just what does it take to cater for an event like Glyndebourne?

Glyndebourne food facts

During the festival season Leith’s makes 36,000 dinners and 5,000 picnics using 2.5 tonnes of asparagus, 2.5 tonnes of strawberries and 10,000 summer puddings. They serve 28,000 afternoon teas, for which 56,000 scones and 84,000 hand-cut finger sandwiches are required.


Ellie Clayton

Photo credit: Leigh Simpson


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