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Feature Article - October 2009

Money Matters

Tips for Expanding Your Food Service & Concession Profits

By Emily Tipping


While the economic news is starting to get better—or at least less bad—the recession is still putting a lot of pressure on the budgets of recreation, sports and fitness facilities. Whether your facility caters to youth sports or hosts big events to celebrate the community, you likely are looking to bring in some revenue to support your mission. A concession stand or food service operation offers one way for many facilities to boost their bottom line, or at least earn back some of the dollars they must spend to bring their programs to the community.

But running a food-service operation or concession stand can be a job in and of itself. And ensuring it serves the purpose you desire—boosting revenues—means running it well. Luckily, we've collected here a handful of simple tips from the experts to help you quickly and easily boost your profit potential without too much extra effort.

But before we begin, we should mention the uber-tip for running things well: staffing smarts. You'll want to be sure that whomever you put in charge of your food service or concession operation is a smart manager of money and people. And don't forget that customer service is a central key to your success. When hiring people to staff your stand, you'll want to go with cheerful people who seem to genuinely want to work with the public. Everyone remembers a bad customer service experience. And they won't return if they think they're going to be greeted by grumps. On the other hand, service with a smile is generally not forgotten either.

That said, I know you're ready to start boosting your bottom line, so let's turn to those tips!

Tip #1: Set Yourself Up

Whether you've got no concession and you're looking to open one or you've already got the basics set up, you'll want to follow these simple rules: make it easy, and make it fast.

If you're just getting going, you can start off with a couple of machines that will allow you to offer popular items. Things like popcorn, nachos and snow cones will bring a lot of bang for your buck, and you don't need a lot of space or skill to get rolling.

Start with a small number of items. It will be easier for your staff, and you don't want your customers' eyes to glaze over as they stare at the hundreds of items on your menu, wondering what will hit the spot.

You also don't want a bunch of patrons standing around waiting for their order to be filled, and this is where the "make it fast" side of the equation comes in. Quick-serve items are ideal because people usually don't want to stand around and wait. They'd rather pick something up quickly and get back to the real reason they're visiting your facility in the first place—fun, sports and recreation.

Be sure to offer people's favorites. While a great deal of attention has been focused on the need to provide healthier options—and this is something you should take into consideration—never forget that when people are out for a game or recreation, they expect to find certain foods at the concession. One manufacturer reports that the items most likely to sell include popcorn, cotton candy, shaved ice or snow cones, corn dogs, shelf-stable pretzels and more. Drinks are also a necessity. In addition to soda and juices, bottles of water and maybe even coffee are also a good choice.

If you want to expand into more meal-like items, consider a countertop hot dog warmer, or even a small convection oven or sandwich grill. Then you'll be able to offer things like pizza by the slice and paninis, too.