Upscale Foodservice Operations Help Stadiums Score Big

Mirroring the restaurant industry, sports and entertainment venue operators, managers and promoters continue to aggressively upgrade their food selection and quality, make their menus more flexible and enhance customer service to improve the fan experience. This has led to higher-quality concessions and higher-end suite and club seat foodservice programs, transforming a growing number of major venues into food destinations.

Case Study: TD Garden, Boston

Last year foodservice and hospitality company Delaware North announced a 2-year, $70 million arena-wide upgrade for Boston's TD Garden that would include new concessions offerings and a complete renovation of its Legends restaurant.

Led by Charlie Jacobs, CEO of Delaware North's Boston Holdings, the overhaul encompasses all concourse food and beverage locations and the addition of 25 new portable food and beverage carts. The new design also reconfigures more than 12,000 square feet of common space to provide dining and drinking areas. In addition, two marketplace food court-type sections and a number of craft beer bars will be part of the final product.

TD-Garden-2011-kitchenExpanded cooking and storage capabilities have allowed TD Garden to up its foodservice game.The more than 40 concessions areas, all with open kitchens, will increase the 19,600-seat arena's points of sale by 10 percent. "This is a 20-year-old building," says Donald Versace, general manager of TD Garden for Sportservice, a division of Delaware North. "Our goal is to increase the variety of food, since we're not just hot dogs anymore."

At press time, the home of NBA's Boston Celtics and NHL's Boston Bruins was in the middle of the project's second phase, which includes rebuilding the remaining concessions areas two at a time. The project will go on hiatus temporarily during the NHL and NBA playoffs and then resume in the summer once the Bruins' and Celtics' seasons come to an end.

"Our biggest challenge is that we're a busy arena with teams playing well into the playoffs, so there's a limited window to do gut renovations," Versace says. TD Garden also hosts 200 public events each year, with 3.5 million people visiting the venue annually. "When we pull down concession locations for rebuilding during the NHL and NBA season, we're moving staple products, like hot dogs, soft pretzels and popcorn, to other food stands."

Phase one of the three-phase renovation, completed last October, included the renovation of Legends, TD Garden's largest restaurant. Located on level three of the arena, this facility serves eligible Bruins and Celtics season ticket holders. The makeover included a reconfigured footprint, modernized sports theme design and refreshed menu that features a raw bar, brick oven and charcuterie station. Two bars serving craft beer and top-shelf drinks were also added.

TD-Garden-Lobster-RollRevamping the foodservice program has enabled TD Garden to expand its menu and incorporate upscale offerings."Prior to the renovation, Legends restaurant had a buffet format with pub food, like wings and pizza," Versace says. "Now it's more high-end with à la carte items, like steak, sushi and short ribs."

A gas-fired brick oven that cooks personal pizzas in 90 seconds serves as the open kitchen's centerpiece. Adjacent to this area sits a new L-shaped prep kitchen that handles catering tasks and concessions preproduction. "We needed additional space for production, now that most of our food is made fresh rather than reheated," Versace says.

Nine concessions locations also were gutted during the project's first phase. Prior to the renovation, these areas were equipped with roller grills, food warmers and cold storage.

With the revamped menus, it was necessary to incorporate cooking equipment that provided fast turnaround times and quick recovery. "We purchased impressive equipment, including a mirror flattop grill that cleans easily and looks new after heavy use," Versace says. "It not only keeps up with the demand, but also heats up extremely fast and has a quick recovery time. This also is the case with the new automatic fryers."

The recently renovated concession areas include a varied menu of traditional sports fare, local favorites and gourmet items. The Big Bad Burger, which pays homage to the Bruins' 70s-era moniker, offers single, double, triple and quadruple burgers with signature Gooey sauce. Equipment includes a 4-foot circular grill and fryers, which are also used in The North End Butcher stand for preparing Italian sausage with peppers and onions and gourmet jumbo beef hot dogs.

"With this project, we had to be innovative," Versace says. "We like to go out and source items from other facilities, and that's where the circular Mongolian grill came from."

Local Boston brand Sal's Pizza sought to change the production process at the arena. "We're saucing and cheesing onsite now," Versace says. "Pizzas are placed on screens the size of sheet pans, baked in conveyor ovens with self-contained hoods and cut into 18-inch slices Boston-style with scissors."

Two equipment manufacturers partnered to develop custom warmers for this area. The rectangular-shaped, all-glass units have two tiers.

The Chipper stand offers house-made potato chips with gourmet toppings. One popular item is the Irish Chipper, chips topped with thin-shaved corned beef, cheddar cheese sauce, sour cream and salsa fresco. "This is a location where we couldn't install a hood, since there are no venting capabilities, so we incorporated a self-contained fryer," Versace says.

TD-Garden-Garden-GrillWith all food now prepared onsite at each of its concessions stands, TD Garden has incorporated a round flattop grill that enhances speed of service.The other new and redesigned concessions areas include Boston Common, which offers local fresh seafood dishes like fried clams and lobster rolls; Garden Grill, which has a classic Boston sandwich menu, including grilled chicken; Lucky's Chicken, a stand that includes breaded chicken tenders with signature seasonings; Taqueria, a Mexican concept with custom tacos; and Draft Picks, which offers traditional arena items like hot dogs and nachos, in addition to a sampling of the Legends menu.

Five portables were consolidated to create The Marketplace, a food court-style area with items like Philly cheese-steak mac and cheese, hot dogs, fresh-carved roast beef and house-made gelato. "The stands appear to be permanent, even though they're portables," Versace says.

Additionally, TD Garden renovated two bars on the level 4 loge concourse, including the Samuel Adams Boston Brewhouse and The Hub.

New technology also was integrated into the arena's overall renovation, including 200 digital signage boards and cloud-based point-of-sale systems. Interactive digital directories on touch screens provide information on food options and the locations of the new concessions areas. Future renovations
will also include revamping foodservice for TD Garden's 90 executive suites, which were renovated in 2012 and 2013.

 Stadium Foodservice Facts

  • Food and beverage sales for recreation and sports centers with managed services were estimated at close to $6.5 billion in 2014 and are projected to increase more than 5 percent to $6.8 billion in 2015.*
  • Facing stagnating seating capacity, attendance challenges and a difficult ticket pricing environment, the U.S. sports and entertainment industry has sought to increase per capita guest spending by enhancing amenities and improving suite and club seat programs. In both cases, foodservice plays a central role.
  • In many ballparks, hot dogs make up roughly 10 percent of food and beverage sales.
  • Safeco Field in Seattle is one of 26 Major League Baseball stadiums serving vegetarian hot dogs and other vegetarian options.**
  • Mobile food ordering applications have been implemented to allow guests to order and customize food items, while providing sports and entertainment foodservice with new promotional channels through which to engage guests.
  • In recent years, all four main major-league foodservice contractors have focused on unveiling new foodservice products, services and alliances. For example, Sportservice has alliances with commercial operators like Lettuce Entertain You, which brought its Wow Bao Asian bun concept to the Chicago White Sox's U.S. Cellular Field. Also, new offerings from Centerplate include vegan soups, organic fruit smoothies, vegetarian hot dogs and a charcuterie stand offering meats and cheeses.
  • Gluten-free items are becoming the norm, but indulgent foods are still the most prevalent in sports venues.
  • Venues are continuing to add local fare to their menus, with virtually every major park adding locally inspired menu items and/or local foodservice brands to the menu mix.

Source: Packaged Facts *National Restaurant Association **Technomic

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