Feature Article - April 2020
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Feed the People

Concessions, Food Trucks & Farmers Markets

By Dave Ramont

Whether you're strolling through a neighborhood art show, cheering at your kids' baseball game or cooling off at a splash park, there's a good chance that food is part of the experience. Food and beverage endeavors can help attract people and generate revenue not only for sports and entertainment venues, but parks and cities as well.

"Concession operations that are set up for success not only drive revenue, they enhance the park-user experience," said Rebecca Salvador, marketing director for Profitable Food Facilities Worldwide (PFF). "When we do it right, the public notices. When we do it wrong, the public also notices."

California-based PFF provides industry-specific solutions to the culinary industry, working with parks and rec departments, sports stadiums, health clubs, waterparks and golf courses, among other industries. They consult with clients on many areas of food and beverage operations, project management, sanitation and food handling procedures, kitchen design, staff training and certification.

"We mainly recommend keeping operations in-house," said Salvador. "For the departments that do choose to outsource, we recommend being involved with the vendor. This means negotiating terms that allow the department to see sales reports, have site inspections and—most importantly—open communication."

Josh Grover, national accounts manager for a national manufacturer and supplier of concession equipment based in Cincinnati, said that larger sports venues are often outsourced, while "park and rec operations typically use in-house staff and sometimes even local volunteers such as sports team parents or nonprofits."

It's important for venues to stay up to date on local licensing and certifications, food handling and disposal protocol. Salvador pointed out that staff training is also a critical component. "We have the ability to create the client's manuals, hire the staff, train them on the client's personal standard operating procedures and consult with management on any staffing needs."

Whether the venue is a soccer stadium or a small municipal pool, kitchen design and layout is crucial. PFF states that the average kitchen space can cost more than $400 per square foot, and only about 40% of kitchen cost is for the equipment. "Getting the kitchen design and the equipment right plays a huge role in the capability of the operation," said Salvador, explaining that a common pitfall is poor planning and space allocation. "As we always say, the menu drives design. On a new build, we design for maximum efficiency, and on remodels, we've been known to increase the efficiency of the kitchen by more than 50%, which turns into lower labor cost and higher revenue."

Grover said they also assist venues with menu planning, equipment layout and overall product offerings. "When just starting out, we advise on focusing on core items such as popcorn, hot dogs, candy and pretzels. Then, you can always expand from there. We do offer training on how to properly use the equipment, and clean and maintain it."

Food purveyors are getting increasingly daring with their offerings, and patrons are loving it. "Over the past 10 years, food has become a rising star with the public," said Salvador. "Everyone wants Instagram-worthy food that they're excited to order and happy to eat again and again. There are simple ways we can up the game with our menus, specifically with having a signature item; it has to be something they can only get at your facility."

At Safeco Field in Seattle, there's the Jiminy Crickets—grasshoppers cooked and dusted with chili-lime sauce. The Milwaukee Brewers offer up the Ham Dinger—a pulled pork sandwich served on a donut. In Cleveland there's the Bad to the Bone Bologna, a fried bologna sandwich with the meat cut in the shape of a dog bone, a nod to the Browns' unofficial mascot. Regional offerings include the Pork Rind Chippers at Baltimore's Camden Yards, featuring crab and pork rinds topped with cheese. The Texas Rangers offer Texas Snowballs—shredded brisket dipped in funnel cake batter, deep fried and coated in powdered sugar. Sweet treats include the Apple Pie Nachos at Coors Field in Colorado or the Cotton Candy Waffle Cone at the Buffalo Sabres hockey arena.

Salvador explained that offering vegetarian and vegan items is also important, as the trend for cleaner eating is increasing. "Not only is this inclusive for the meat-free population, it also gives the menu an overall healthier feel to know that these offerings exist."

A venue often builds a base menu with their staple items while occasionally experimenting with limited-time items. Salvador offers three simple rules for adding or removing a menu item: "Does it taste good? Does it make money? Is it executable?"

If you have to sell too many to cover the cost of labor and goods, it's not worthwhile. Additionally, "If it takes too long to produce and holds up the line when we're busy, the throughput is terrible," said Salvador.

Grover said they assist venues with adding new or seasonal menu options, like sno-cones for summer, but cautions that a common problem for smaller concession stands is they try to do too much when first starting out. "With too many offerings, you increase your time in line. Keep lines moving efficiently and keep it simple for the customer."

For venues of all sizes, catering can be a great revenue generator. "Catering for events including weddings, baby showers, quinceaneras and even funerals/celebrations of life is a huge market. We have a system that we've tested for large events of 3,500-plus people. It does work and it can be done," said Salvador.

For holidays or other special occasions, Grover said they also offer assistance. "We can advise on setting up mobile sites outside of a permanent concession stand location."