In the existing space, ifse created 4 separate branded catering areas, 30% more seating and a unique catering experience for exhibitors and visitors to dine, relax and close business deals

The NEC exhibition centre in Birmingham opened it’s doors to the first exhibition, the International Spring Fair in 1976 and since then has grown every year in size and capacity. The NEC now boasts 20 large exhibition halls, 34 conference centres and various outside spaces which together have helped to create the largest exhibition centre in the UK and busiest centre in Europe.

The Project

ifse were originally invited to be a part of the restaurant redevelopment in 2015 to design and build and fit out the NEC catering facilities. The initial work started with halls 1, 3 and 4 working over an intensive 10-week period to ensure minimal disruption to planned exhibitions.

The entire team at ifse were involved from design to delivery. The catering refurbishment started with a major strip out of all the existing equipment, servery counters, partition walls, bars and existing flooring to create a blank canvas to start completely again.

The design team, together with the NEC and the catering team, studied the research and as a result of the in-valuation insight four separate branded catering areas within the existing space to allow for more variety that the visitors were looking for. The four separate spaces would allow the catering team to enhance and expand the food offering available:

  • The Oak Kitchen – offering traditional English cuisine
  • Butcher and Grill – offering freshly prepared food from the grill
  • MADE coffee shop – serving handcrafted cakes and grab and go products
  • EvViva – the stylish pizzeria and bar

This was fresh style of operation for the catering team and NEC were first tested with the initial catering development and thanks to the success, combined with increase in footfall and quality of service, the scheme was rolled addition halls.

Partition walls were erected to build the MADE coffee shops within the existing footprint. These facilities gave visitors the option for a quick ‘grab-and-go’ sandwich, snack or coffee if time was limited. An Atosa grill was added to allow for the freshly prepared paninis.

The main dining hall was updated and redesigned to feature two smaller, compact servery counters with the Oak Kitchen and the Burger and Grill branding, meaning visitors could quickly browse the offering and go to the service point without queueing in one single long line.

Electrolux high performance prime cooking equipment was utilised within the kitchen and bespoke counters were designed exclusively for the NEC with bright displays built in to highlight the freshly prepared meals. In keeping with the NEC’s high efficiency standards, Williams and Electrolux high efficiency refrigeration were used and in the long term would provide the NEC with valuable annual savings due to a reduction in operation electrical costs.

Third and finally, the EvViva bar and pizzeria were designed to add a differential flare and variety to the food offering. This was a totally new concept for the NEC, serving freshly prepared pizza and pasta dishes inside the exhibition halls.


The catering refurbishment project was totally unique in the fact that the ifse building teams were working in four entirely different areas yet they were identical in design.

Kathryn James, MD of NEC Group, described the redevelopment as putting food and beverage “at the forefront of the NEC’s offering”.

“The redevelopment allowed the us to take a step forward in the way that they service and welcome their customers at the NEC”.

– Kathryn James – MD of NEC Group

As a result of the hard work from all of the teams involved, the project was completed on time and “virtually snag free” according to Anne Peacock, the associate director dedicated to the project. 30% more seating was added as a result of the ‘sleeker’ and more compact servery counter set up, ensuring that each restaurant was future-proofed for ever growing visitor numbers.

“By prefabricating the counters, we were able to cut down the delivery time and ensure that we were ahead of schedule. While there was a risk to this, our team ensure that all units fitted perfectly and smoothly” Anne added.

Kevin Watson, managing director of the catering team involved at the NEC had these words to say: “Thank you for helping us deliver this project on time and on budget, and the finished product looks great. The whole team have feedback how smooth the project went with you and your teams ‘working with us’ approach”.