Concessionaires have quickly warmed to the trend of grab-and-go markets and food stands at sports venues.
Grab-and-go concepts give fans fast, self-service access to food and drinks just like they would have at a co
nvenience store. They can take the shape of small markets or simple spaces with walk-up coolers and drink bins. Most have cashiers, yet require fewer of them than traditional concession st
ands. Some have gone the next step and incorporated self-service checkout technology.
“We’ve had a lot of success with them. There’s a lot more coming down the pipeline,” said David Lippman, regional vice president with concessionaire Legends.
Legends has added eight grab-and-go areas at Yankee Stadium over the past two years, expanded their use at Angel Stadium in Anaheim, and installed them at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum as the stadium goes through a $300 million renovation.
Jaime Faulkner, CEO of E15 (Levy Restaurants’ analytics arm), said the concept has been successful because it speeds up customer service. Levy has incorporated grab-and-go options at multiple sports facilities. It added four additional locations at Ford Field this season after seeing the popularity of the concept following the Lions stadium’s $100 million renovation in 2017. That included adding a second “Kroger Cooler” spot tied to a sponsorship with the grocery store chain. Three beer stands were replaced by grab-and-go areas, with two offering beer, soda and water, and another offering popcorn, pretzels and hot dogs.
“We have consistently observed transactions taking one to two minutes or less during peak periods. A typical concession stand during halftime at many venues can be anywhere from 5 to 12 minutes,” said Mike Plutino, CEO of consulting firm Food Service Mattersof new grab-and-go stands at Nissan Stadium in Nashville. The consulting firm also does work for the Rose Bowl, Chase Center in San Francisco and other venues.
The newly renovated State Farm Arena in Atlanta doesn’t have a grab-and-go option for this NBA season, but that could change. Executive Chef Joe Schafer, who runs food and beverage for Levy and the Atlanta Hawks, is looking at bringing the concept to the arena to promote local chefs and their food.
Schafer said the key is making sure wrapped and packaged items such as sandwiches stay fresh. “The challenge with grab-and-go specifically, there is not a lot of things you can put out that it will be great for a couple of hours.”
Keeping drink and food shelves stocked and areas clean can also be a challenge, especially at NFL games when customer volume spikes at halftime or at the end of quarters, Lippman said.
The grab-and-go locations go beyond typical stadium fare. They have been used to offer fresh fruit, healthy snacks and organic offerings. Lippman said he sees them being used to offer specialty items such as bento boxes, bottles of wine, craft beers and charcuterie boxes.
“We are definitely seeing a lot of growth and that stems all around convenience and variety,” said Danielle Lazor, vice president of design and development for Aramark.
The stands can also be flexible. At Yankee Stadium, for example, fans were found to like beer and water on ice more than taking bottles from walk-up coolers. So Legends, the Yankees and Anheuser-Busch put in large display areas and buckets with ice and beverages for fans.
Grab-and-gos can be high-tech or low-tech.
Audi Field has incorporated self-service checkouts that deploy technology from Mashgin Inc. that uses 3-D imaging to identify and scan items without a cashier or the need to swipe bar codes. The same system is in place at Capital One Arena, Pepsi Center, Minute Maid Park and Kauffman Stadium.
Legends has been working with point-of-sale company Appetize to offer LAFC fans mobile ordering and then express pickup via the MLS team’s app. Part of that effort is aided by IBM’s deployment of wireless infrastructure under the seats at the new $250 million Banc of California Stadium.
Sports venues are also looking at Amazon Go, the concept where customers just go inside and pick up items and are charged directly via their smartphone without going to a cashier. Customers use an app to enter an Amazon Go store and then sensors and cameras pick up their purchases and charge them via their smartphone.
Legends is also working on self-service and mobile ordering applications with NCR, Texas Digital, Apple Pay and Appetize on a wider implementation of mobile ordering and express pickups. He said that wider implementation is probably about two years away.
The technology piece of grab-and-go along with its efficiencies are important with stadiums, ballparks and arenas, which are challenged to hire and retain concessions staff and other lower-paid and often seasonal frontline workers.
“A properly designed grab-and-go can generally operate with less than half of the staff required when compared to a fixed concession while generating similar if not more revenue,” Plutino said. “Two recently added grab-and-go locations at Nissan Stadium are now consistently two of the top five highest-grossing locations requiring significantly less staff.”
Plutino said further, “We know that technology has to keep playing a bigger role from just a workforce standpoint.”