Feature Article - February 2014
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Food for Thought … and Profits

The Changing World of Concessions

By Rick Dandes


The Law of Attraction

Concessionaires can no longer wait around for the customers to walk up to their window and order. "We are getting smarter in our operations by linking and integrating food with everything we do at our facilities," Handler said. One simple idea to attract customers is to offer group deals with the food included. Or, at the very least, a voucher to lead customers to your window. Handler also suggested using the power of social media.

"Build a campaign around the food at your facility on Facebook, or try an e-mail blast," he said. Food is the easiest item to sell when there are no new attractions or items at your site. Above all, the campaign must show the customers eating and enjoying the food.

Want to lead customers to your concession stand? Use simple paw prints as fun signage pointing the way to the stand, or find some other visual signal that fits in with your theme.

Many concessionaires have discovered that using trailers and mobile carts strategically placed around your park or arena can increase sales and customer satisfaction. "The more points of sale you have, the better you can serve your customer," Etter said. "It all goes back to speed of service. And diversity is a good thing. Why not have a beer cart? That serves all the customers you wouldn't get because they hate to wait in long lines behind people buying food. Be very specific about what you offer at a mobile station. Diluting the locations from one central spot to maybe three or four, spreads people out and speeds up service, which people appreciate."

Some facilities, Handler said, are gaining hundreds of thousands of dollars in return by remodeling their ever-aging facilities. "A lot of our facilities were built in the last century and have surpassed what some of us call relics," he said. Now, it's no longer a laughing matter. With new health department requirements and the desire to be financially successful, recreation facilities are taking the next steps in remodeling their establishments.

Health and Wealth

More and more people are trying to eat healthier, and recreation facilities and sports venues are reacting to that trend by offering healthier options, including grilled food instead of fried items, and salads, fruit snacks, fresh fruit, granola bars, veggie burgers, yogurt, gluten-free items and wraps. Bottled water sales have been climbing the past 10 years. Even children are ordering a bottled water instead of a soda.

Subway, the corporate franchiser, which features many locations within recreational and sporting venues, has thrived on offering healthier choices. "We make our sandwiches, basically, the way customers want them," said Kevin Kane, public relations manager, Subway (corporate), Milford, Conn. "Our basic concept from the beginning has been, if someone wants a meal on the go, a healthier option, they certainly have a chance to do that with us. If they want to indulge in something more than a quick on-the-go meal, we offer that as well. But the trending from our perspective is eating healthier for people on the go."

Subway tries hard to keep its sandwiches below 6 grams of fat, added Liz Smethurst, global account manager for new business development, Subway corporate. "Our customers can lower the calorie count by choosing different options. Not taking cheese, for example, olives and having more vegetables. We do make them aware of what we can offer them at lower calorie counts. If you are a weight watcher you definitely know what you can eat and what you can't eat at Subway, and it's not so evident at other places."

"Concession operators have to get away from uniformity and scale. Each venue should have as its goal, coming up with something unique that stands out."

Local franchisees often collaborate with recreation facilities and arenas to offer their sandwiches, for parties as an example, Smethurst said. "That's not something corporate headquarters gets into."

But the reality at most concession stands is that healthy food choices only account for about 1 percent of sales. "Do we try to slip some healthy food onto our menus?" Etter asked. "Most assuredly, yes, we do. Do people ask for it? Not really. I think operators have always sold something healthy. But we look at it as an entertainment package; we sell dark chocolate covered raisins, trans-fat free: dark chocolate is supposed to be good for you, raisins are fruit. There is a way to put a twist on healthy food that can help sales, and make you money."

The Keys to Success

Speed of service and quality offerings will drive consumer patronage, Etter said. "Look, bottom line, our business is a secondary revenue business. Meaning, people don't go to any stadium or arena, movie theater or airport for the foodservice. They go for the product on the movie screen, on the field or the race event. This is the one big thing for us in the concession industry is to get our hands around. We think if we lower the price of hot dogs we're going to sell more hot dogs. That is not true. We think that if we do certain things, we can sell more. But that is not necessarily true either. The key components for us are speed of service and food quality."

Concession operators have to get away from uniformity and scale. "We need to have things that are creative," Etter said. "Each venue should have as its goal, coming up with something unique that stands out."