Problem Solver - August 2007
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Diversifying Your Concessions Menu

Patrons are losing interest in the offerings at our concession stand. How can we quickly and easily diversify our menu selections?

Your problem isn't unique. As society's eating habits evolve, concession stands must adapt or they'll soon find themselves running a dangerous deficit. Fortunately, with just a little bit of tweaking, you can get guests' mouths watering again.

Nationwide, concession menus are trending toward healthier items. Though there will always be a demand for funnel cakes, nachos and hot dogs, guests like to have healthy items, as well.

Shaved ice and snow cones, for example, offer tasty ways to both add some spark to you menu and boost revenues. The fat-free treats come in myriad flavors, giving customers a lot of choices-orange, banana, strawberry, cherry, grape and coconut to name just a few-without much out-of-pocket expense for the stand operator.

Both snow cone and shaved ice machines are safe to use and easy to maintain. Their heavy-duty stainless-steel blades also will stay sharp through (literally) tons of ice. For many recreation managers, however, the machines' most important feature is their price. The shavers fit well within the budgets of schools, park districts and sporting venues looking to raise money with their concession stands.

Of course, it's impossible to create a menu that fits everyone's lifestyle and dietary needs. The good news is that your menu probably already offers a variety of options-now it's up to you to point it out. Hang signs promoting vegetarian options such as popcorn, nachos and caramel apples, or offer a bunless hot dog for carb-conscious patrons. Do your customers want something low-fat? Point them toward pretzels, snow cones or even cotton candy.

Remember to keep the menu simple. Variety may be the spice of life, but it doesn't always result in profits. The more extensive the menu, the more time, skill and inventory required to execute it. One simple way to expand your menu is to add variations of an existing item. If you offer popcorn, try adding flavors like caramel corn and cheese corn. It is easy and inexpensive to do, and can triple your popcorn sales.

Caramel corn, for example, is an item that can be sold at top prices. Concession stands are currently selling caramel corn at a rate of 25 to 35 cents per ounce, with food costs ranging between 6 and 8 cents per once. It's an ideal option for stands that operate 90 to 100 days a year and typically serve a couple thousand people.

Though the item appears-and sells-as if it were a gourmet food, caramel corn is easy to make. All you do is pop the corn, then blend with a pre-measured one-step mix in a caramel corn cooker mixer. After the mixer is dumped, spread the caramel corn around to cool. The latest machines offer rapid cooling systems.

If you do go the popcorn route, always select a machine with a stainless-steel kettle. These are much easier to clean, and a clean kettle means better-tasting popcorn. Twin-arm kettle suspension is another feature to look for. It's the safest option and also gives you more storage room in the cabinet as the kettle pivots to empty the corn. You also should use your popcorn machine as a marketing tool. Machines with a decal on the front glass, a silk-screened plastic dome, a lighted popcorn sign or a neon sign on the machine are sure to attract attention.

Gold Medal Products Co.: