Stadium foodservice shifts as football season kicks off

Fewer or no fans in the stands means transitioning to new ways of serving food and drink.
Photograph courtesy of Miami Dolphins/Hard Rock Stadium​​​​​​​

Pro football season kicked off last week, and stadium foodservice operations are fired up and ready to go. But fans are going to have a different dining experience than in the past. While most NFL stadiums are allowing some spectators in the stands, numbers are limited to around 25% capacity. And the pandemic has placed many restrictions on menus, service, payment and more.

The Miami Dolphins are allowing 13,000 out of 60,000 fans into Hard Rock Stadium for home opener games, with staggered gate entry times listed on tickets and mobile touchless entry into the stadium. Once inside, attendees can expect numerous safeguards and tech enhancements along with a streamlined menu.

prepackaged foodsPhotograph courtesy of Miami Dolphins/Hard Rock Stadium

“Our Centerplate team worked closely with the client to crunch the numbers and highlight the most popular ‘football fare’ to hasten [guests’] decision-making and reduce wait times,” says Kevin Mitchell, Centerplate VP at Hard Rock Stadium. Pizza, burgers, chicken tenders and hot dogs are the must-haves, but there’s also more adventurous fare on hand.

What’s changed

To order, fans log into their Dolphins app to review the menus and place pickup orders. Seventeen stands have been modified to be order and pickup only, and the modified locations have no POS terminals or cashier and do not offer traditional walkup service. All menu items are served in closed containers, including canned cocktails such as Moscow mules and margaritas.

At the more traditional kiosks and stands, social-distancing signage and messaging are abundant and all transactions are cashless. While congregating around the bar is off limits, bars and hawkers with carts are serving drinks to carry off to well-spaced seating areas or the stadium seats.

hard rock stadiumPhotograph courtesy of Miami Dolphins/Hard Rock Stadium

So what can hungry fans expect on the menu? Mitchell stresses that local sourcing will continue “as much as possible” and that offerings will capture authentic South Florida flavors. In addition to the popular stadium fare, Centerplate is serving up a SOBE Pulled Pork Sandwich and black bean burger at the pickup stations.

Korean BBQ Brat

Photograph courtesy of the Dallas Cowboys

AT&T Stadium, home of the Dallas Cowboys, is kicking off the 2020 season with a focus on comfort foods and Southwest flavors. Concession stands are serving barbecue, sausage and burgers, along with vegetarian and vegan items—all packed to go.

The gameday menu includes portable items such as Cowboys Cheesesteak Hand Pie filled with onions, sliced steak and white queso baked in pastry; a Korean pork sausage with kimchi relish, garlic jalapeno aioli and fried onions; a Mac ‘n Cheese Brisket Cone composed of a bread cone filled with mac ‘n cheese, fresh chopped brisket and signature BBQ sauce topped with spicy jalapeno peppers; and Al Pastor Tacos. Among the less meaty selections are a Thai Veggie Wrap with Spicy Peanut Sauce, Vegetarian Portobello Burger and Quinoa Salad.

Brisket Mac Cone

Photograph courtesy of the Dallas Cowboys

As at Hard Rock Stadium, only cashless transactions are taking place.

A new way to tailgate

Tailgate parties are off-limits in most stadium parking lots this fall, but the Cowboys’ foodservice partner, Legends, is making up for that with a new AT&T Stadium At Home menu. George Wasai, director of food and beverage for AT&T Stadium, created packages of fan favorites and innovative new items for tailgating in front of the TV.

The Grand Cantina includes a Mexican cobb salad, chicken fajitas, beef barbacoa, cilantro rice and dulce de leche cupcakes, while The Texas Barbecue features Texas caviar made with black-eyed peas, barbecue brisket, peppery Texas rope sausage, bacon-wrapped jalapeno chicken bites, two sides and scratch-made Texas bourbon peach streusel. There’s also a Sunday Funday package with a focus on finger foods, such as roasted veggies with dip, sandwiches and house-baked brownies and bars.

Bacon Wrapped Jalapeno Chicken Bites
Photograph courtesy of the Dallas Cowboys

“Our entire team has worked together to create these tasty offerings that will allow fans to enjoy the spirit and traditional flavors of AT&T Stadium from the comfort of their own home,” said Wasai.

Cheesesteak Hand Pie

Photograph courtesy of the Dallas Cowboys

Minimum orders are for four to six people, and packages serving 10 to 14 and 16 to 20 people are also available. Orders must be placed in advance and are available for pickup or delivery on Saturdays before each Sunday gameday, whether home and away.

Maintaining the community connection

Meanwhile, both sports stadiums are carrying on community feeding initiatives started prior to the pandemic as well as during it. At Hard Rock Stadium in Miami, Centerplate continues to produce about 50,000 meals a week for both senior citizens and county residents in need of assistance. “We have a dedicated staff assigned to this program,” says Mitchell, “and it remains a top priority for Centerplate/Sodexo, Hard Rock Stadium and the Miami Dolphins.” The outreach is conducted in tandem with DeliverLean and the Miami Dolphins Foundation Food Relief Program.

Texas Barbecue
Photograph courtesy of the Dallas Cowboys

The Legends at AT&T Stadium continues to purchase organic produce from We Over Me Farm—a local supplier working to eliminate a Dallas food desert. The farm grows organic produce on the former football field of Paul Quinn College.

And this fall, stadium chefs are offering a virtual cooking series called “Eat Like the Cowboys,” which launches Sept. 17. Fans who buy in can view culinary demos of popular stadium recipes and get a glimpse of Dallas Cowboy players enjoying their favorites at home. The funds raised go to support Fuel Up to Play 60, a joint program of the Cowboys and Dairy MAX that helps provide school meals for kids.

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