Stadium foodservice gears up for college football

The fall football season is a go after major college conferences reversed earlier decisions to postpone or cancel play.
UF Dining
Photograph courtesy of the University of Florida

The Big 10, SEC and Pac 12 all are going ahead with their college football schedules, although the delayed start means a shorter season. Some NCAA conferences have already resumed play, while others are starting in October or November.

Not all college stadiums are allowing fans in the stands, but those that can are busy revving up foodservice operations. The pandemic has not only limited attendance to 20% to 25% capacity, but it’s also put many limitations on menus and service styles.

Vaught-Hemingway Stadium in Oxford, Miss., home to the University of Mississippi’s team, held its first football game on Sept. 26, allowing 16,000 fans in the stands. Darren Hubbard, Centerplate VP and head of foodservice at the stadium, worked through the summer to streamline the menu and focus on the most popular items, including pizza and burgers.

UF Foodservice Guards

Photograph courtesy of the University of Florida

“Everything that we make will come wrapped/boxed to increase speed of service,” says Hubbard. “We did take into consideration any item that is hard to consume or that takes a little time to prepare.  We don’t want fans waiting/congregating on the concourse, so our menu is designed to quickly serve all guests.” No table seating is available, and POS systems are more spread out.

“We’re also introducing more options through mobile ordering that can be delivered to fans’ seats,” he adds.

Spectators in club seats ordinarily dine from self-service buffets offering fancier fare. Those areas are also transitioning to prepackaged food and drinks that fans can grab and take back to their seats, says Hubbard. But he emphasizes that Centerplate’s culinary team has worked closely with local partners to capture the Southern flavors and ingredients Ole Miss fans expect.

Over at the University of Florida in Gainesville, the Florida Gators’ first home game will be Oct. 3. Attendance is limited to 17,000 fans at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium—20% of capacity—and speed of service is a priority there as well.

“Our menus have been simplified by design to ensure maximum throughput and prevent crowding on the concourse,” says Justin Wright, GM for Centerplate at the University of Florida. Most items are packaged to grab and go, and “we are reducing person-to-person contact in all locations,” he says. “We encourage Gator fans to pick up their food, then return to their seats.”

The selection of portable foods includes nachos, wings, sandwiches cookies and brownies, and all transactions are cashless to minimize contact. Additionally, no vendors are walking up and down aisles, and condiment stands have been eliminated in favor of single-use packets.

UF Chef in Catering

Photograph courtesy of the University of Florida

Along with all of the menu adaptations, changes in staff scheduling were enacted at both stadiums. “For our kitchen crew, we are running two separate shifts,” says Wright. “So, if one group must quarantine, the other crew can continue to work.”

Also in the schedule: daily health screens and temperature checks for all foodservice employees, as well as a dedicated health ambassador from Centerplate/Sodexo guiding all venue decisions at Ole Miss and the University of Florida.

UF Pre-Packaged Snacks

Photograph courtesy of the University of Florida

Both stadiums are naturally following strict safety protocols. “There will be a lot of signage to remind people to keep their social distancing and hundreds of hand-sanitizing stations have been installed—at every gate, portal, concession stand and restroom,” says Hubbard. It goes without saying that all foodservice employees are required to wear masks and gloves.

Another big change for the 2020 season: Cheerleaders and spirit teams are forbidden on the sidelines during games. And a favorite student activity—tailgating—is a no-go on campuses this year.


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