The sports hospitality landscape has changed drastically in the last 20 years. Consumer demands of dietary needs and healthy menu items have grown with everything else in the sports hospitality industry. With bigger business and higher price tickets comes a heightened expectation by the fans. Our goal is to always meet and hopefully exceed their expectations. Original menu creation and diverse food options give the venue character and excitement. It’s not just hot dogs, peanuts, chocolate malt cups, and stale beer in wax cups (see Tiger’s menu from the early 70’s below). I witnessed the movement the first 10 years as a paying consumer (suites, new stadiums, in-seat service). The last 10 years I have been fortunate enough to actually get paid to influence the movement and manage the growth within the industry.
As a leader in the industry my philosophy has been to bring what’s best of the city to the venues. The soul of a city is through its food and that food can create character and warmth that the steel and concrete do not. I have also learned diversifying menu options is a must in this competitive industry to match the diversified tastes and wants of our fans.
Vegetarian and Gluten Free options have been a big push over the last 5 years. The key to these menu items are to provide and serve them in a quality way. Gummy bears (gluten free) and nachos (vegetarian) were the norm not too long ago in regards to special dietary needs menus in stadiums. With help from fans and vendors availability and quality of these options have grown exponentially.
As an operator there are quite a few challenges when planning dietary menus in concessions at stadiums. Most people don’t realize the preparation, logistics, and the planning that goes into servicing tens of thousands of people in a time span of a couple hours. Maximizing service and keeping food quality consistent are the focus once doors open up. This can only be done if menus are planned out properly and organized in locations that can properly serve these items.
This past summer while taking over operations of CenturyLink Field in Seattle fans were vocal about our decision to remove “veggie burgers” from the club level. The reasoning behind the decision wasn’t because of financial numbers, but because of standards to keep these items to the quality the fans deserve. Not only is it beneficial for an operator to keep special items (like vegan and gluten free) in specific areas for pure logistic reasons but it also insures quality and consistency of these items as they need to be prepared properly. I ended up changing the veggie burger to a vegan burger and to assure proper preparation this item needed to be prepared and cooked at separate grills to prevent cross-contamination.
A good operator will not only find a diverse creative menu and incorporate vegetarian options around the venue but will also look for opportunity to create a couple specific menu concepts spots in strategic locations that strictly focus on those specialty items (whether it be dietary, healthy, or any concept options). It is also vital for the fan base to know where all options and items are in a venue. MLB “At The Ballpark” app, Seattle Seahawks app, veggiehappy.com, and many other sources have been a great help to improve guest experiences at venues.
We aren’t saving lives (with healthier food options I like to think we are helping). Our job is to make our fans (guests) have memorable moments on and off the field of entertainment.