New safety guidelines are forcing changes in convention and stadium foodservice

Operators are coming up with new ways to feed visitors when these large venues reopen.
San Diego COVID Kitchen
Photograph courtesy of Centerplate

As convention halls, stadiums and other large venues formulate reopening plans, their foodservice teams are in the throes of menu makeovers. Catering setups and retail outlets have to be revamped to conform with stringent sanitation protocols and safety guidelines. Many old ideas are not going to fly in the new normal.

Carmen Callo, corporate executive chef for Centerplate, the foodservice provider for a number of stadiums, convention halls and meeting centers, has been working closely with his teams to get operations up to speed. “We have to continue to be flexible with meeting planners and building clients, as the changes are rapidly evolving,” he says.

Increased to-go offerings will jumpstart reopenings. “We will be offering boxed and packaged breakfasts, lunches and dinners for receptions,” Callo says. “The use of bento-style boxes and hot and cold packaging will increase dramatically as our venues come back online, and we’ll be introducing more packaging options that allow foods to be enclosed and sealed.” 

"This new format of meals delivered in boxes rather than open formats presents an opportunity for creative caterers to rethink the design of their food presentation entirely, or even create new custom branding opportunities," says Daphne Hoppenot, founder of The Vendry, an online marketplace for events professionals.

Hollywood Bowl Supper to Go

Photograph courtesy of Centerplate

Buffets are not totally out of the picture, says Callo, although safety guidelines will place limitations on this service style. Social distancing as guests go through the line, sneeze guards around tables and dedicated, PPE-garbed waitstaff are all part of the plan.

“Family-style service will likely not be allowed any time soon,” Callo says. “And action stations will certainly need to be reworked to move the ‘action’ to a back table, with plates portioned out by a server behind a sneeze guard.” 

Centerplate teams are also streamlining menus, focusing on creative options that still reflect local flavors as before, Callo says. Another mission that remains despite COVID-19 is developing custom solutions. “Around 70% to 80% of our menus are currently customized for individual groups, and we will adhere to the new safety guidelines to keep delivering a custom approach,” he says.

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