Technology drives concessions

Innovation isn’t just about what’s cooking behind the counter. These technologies are driving concessions to the next level.

self-serve

1. Tablet and mobile phone ordering

At the Charleston RiverDogs’ stadium season-ticket holders receive restaurant-style service at bowl-level seating. Last year, Shea found himself searching for an upgrade to traditional pen-and-paper ordering, which required servers to run to the kitchen at the back of the stadium resulting in a 35- to 40-minute wait. Partnering with a local company, he developed an app that immediately transmits orders to remote printers in the kitchen. “We cut the wait time almost in half, if not more than that,” Shea says. The change was so successful that this season, the program was added to self-service ordering on touch pads in eight private suites manned by two servers.

While it doesn’t yet allow for ordering, a Major League Baseball app displays concessions options at a stadium level in each park. “You can see where you’re sitting and it will tell you what’s around you, “ Nigro says. 

2. Self-serve beverages

Arizona’s Phoenix Zoo recently added an interactive slushie station marketed toward its youngest guests. “There are multiple flavors, so kids get to help themselves,” Lancer Hospitality Catering Regional Director of Operations Tony Arvidson says of the nine self-serve, frozen-drink machines.

Interactive drink stations aren’t a novelty reserved for kids. Self-serve beer kiosks and even self-serve cocktail machines are bringing drinks from behind the bar at major arenas across the country. Pour-your-own beer now is on tap at Chicago’s United Center, home of the NHL’s Blackhawks, the NBA’s Bulls and myriad concerts. Cocktail dispensers recently were installed in private suites at Louisville’s Churchill Downs, pouring mint juleps and other bourbon cocktails during the Kentucky Derby in May. 

3. Wristbands and ID cards

Providing customers the ability to pay for food and beverage using a wristband or key card allows operators to collect important consumption information that simply isn’t available with cash transactions. At Cedar Point amusement park in Sandusky, Ohio, visitors who purchase an all-day dining plan can use wristbands to pay for meals, snacks and beverages.

At the university level, syncing sports stadium concessions with residence hall meal plans has proved a key technological improvement at the USF Sun Dome. “To further encourage student participation and support, students are able to use their meal plan at certain concession stands, which eliminates the need for cash or credit cards,” Horowitz says. 

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