The Paddington on Sydney’s Oxford Street.

In the 2022 Australian Hotelier Industry Leaders Forum, Merivale’s group operations manager of stadiums, Debbie Higgins, discusses the evolving vision for the group.

Sydney hospitality giant Merivale made some mega moves in 2021 into regional NSW and Victoria – and also into new hospitality markets.

According to Merivale, although the locations may have changed, the thinking behind its venue acquisition strategy hasn’t, with Merivale CEO Justin Hemmes and the team on the hunt for “that special venue, in the special location that inspires a vision”. 

In another major highlight for the group, Merivale won the tender late last year to become the exclusive hospitality experience partner at the Sydney Cricket Ground and Sydney Football Stadium when it opens this year.

Starting last December, Merivale has taken charge of catering and beverage services at both venues for an initial term of nearly six years – until September 2027.

Merivale operates some of Australia’s most iconic dining and entertainment venues and the SCG’s summer menus are being refined by the group’s executive chef team, with plans to deliver an offering focused on quality, variety, value for money and ease and speed of service. 

“We’re proud to have been announced as the first in-house, exclusive hospitality experience partner at the SCG and new SFS,” Debbie Higgins, Merivale’s group operations manager, Stadiums, says.

“The partnership sits with Venues NSW and is an exciting opportunity for us to provide a world-class, enjoyable experience through food and beverage for all guests to the stadiums. For us it means an incredible opportunity and milestone in Merivale’s history and we couldn’t be more excited.

“We have been very focused on the stadium, as this unique opportunity really hit a chord with Merivale. We believe in this precinct, and we believe the SCG and the new SFS will reinvigorate Sydney. We love that.”

Learning from lockdown

According to Higgins, Merivale’s experiences during Sydney’s first lockdown helped the team navigate Sydney’s second lockdown in the second half of last year.

“We knew what to expect from lockdown one so we proactively provided our teams with platforms to educate, stay healthy and connected in new ways. Staff wellbeing is the priority.”

Another 2021 highlight, Higgins says, was bringing venue leaders back a few weeks before opening to re-induct them into their roles and focus on their leadership and development.

“This was a learning from lockdown one and it allowed the teams to feel confident when reopening, and to have a clear plan for the team as our venues got busy very quickly.”

She says that Merivale’s senior management team “really upped the level of communication to our teams during the lockdown to support team members to have clarity and government resources at their fingers tips so they were well informed”.

Higgins says that the industry and nationwide staff shortage is still posing challenges for the group.

“We continue to be challenged in this space. We innovate and create to attract candidates but it’s not easy. We have a number of exciting roles available across the group, from venue to stadium staff and head office, and we encourage people to check out to see all our available positions,” Higgins says.

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