Between NCAA basketball’s March Madness, professional hockey and basketball, the Super Bowl and a little thing called the Winter Olympics, it’s prime season for sports spectators. Noncommercial diners are hungry for food events around televised games, including menus that fit the theme and fuel the fans. These four operators from various segments shared their picks for the best game-time snacks.
The brand with food
The operator: Northwestern University, Evanston, Ill.
The snacking contenders: Purple and white popcorn (the school’s colors), hot cookie and brownie sundaes served in signature mini helmet-shaped containers
For the fall sports season, District Executive Chef Chris Studtmann worked extensively with Northwestern football to create these branded items to sell in the stadium. They were such hits that Northwestern Dining is moving them indoors for basketball season.
“During the NCAA playoffs, we set up viewing parties with popcorn and other snacks in some of the residential dining halls, and the students really go for it,” Studtmann says. He also plans to borrow sandwiches he developed for the Big Cats Grill outside the stadium—including Angus beef burgers, smoked brisket barbecue and Chicago-style sausages all served on paw-shaped pretzel buns imprinted with the Northwestern Wildcats logo—for a rebranded student union concept.
Plated for ease
The operator: Senova for hospitals and senior living
The snacking contenders: Homemade pretzels, finger foods
Chris Greve, director of culinary for Senova’s healthcare venues, favors composing snack plates instead of having less mobile seniors serve themselves. Cherry tomatoes stuffed with tuna salad or endive leaves filled with curried chicken salad are easy to pick up and eat, as are meatballs and tiny quiches.
Events such as the Super Bowl and tailgate parties can evoke food memories, so Greve encourages staff to talk to residents in memory care about past celebrations. “Residents are drawn to ‘menutainment,’” he says.
The operator: Cura Hospitality, Telford, Pa.
The snacking contenders: Chicken cordon bleu bites, Caribbean chicken wings, mini tacos
Many independent living residents at Cura Hospitality’s Lutheran Community tend to substitute snacks for meals—especially when there’s a themed event taking place, says John Kopyar, general manager of dining services. Such events are good sampling opportunities for the facility’s meat-and-potatoes clientele. “When we’re trying out a new snack, we will offer samples first so residents can see that not all this food is spicy and hot,” he says.
Get in on the action
The operator: Aladdin Food Management for B&I
The snacking contenders: Turkey wings, basketball-themed sweets
This year, Eric Pearce, corporate executive chef for Aladdin Food Management, is swapping out pricier chicken wings for turkey wings, giving fans the option of customizing them with a selection of sauces. “Instead of offering four to five chicken wings, one turkey wing makes a good-sized serving,” says Pearce. Staff at the station offer Pearce’s twist on traditional sauces, including cilantro-lime ranch dressing and Buffalo sauce ramped up with grated cheese.
He also prepares sweets and savories to serve on the line as game-day options. “We’ll bake a cake and scoop out pieces with a melon baller to form little basketballs, then deep-fry and decorate them,” Pearce says.