From Quick Snacks to Full Meals
Trends in Zoo Carts and Concessions

January 3, 2013 No Comments

With so much to see at zoos, it is no wonder that many guests want to stop for only a quick meal or snack while they make their way from exhibit to exhibit.  Zoos accommodate their guests’ appetites with sit-down, stand-alone and food cart stations that sell everything from full meals to quick snacks.

Operated by the Chicago Zoological Society, the 216-acre Brookfield Zoo in suburban Chicago, Ill., is home to 2,300 animals representing 450 species.

“We have four sit-down restaurants, eight stand-alone concessions and four carts and all are very busy each day,” said Operations Manager for Food Services Jay Stouffer.  “What type of food guests want depends upon the individual. Some want to take a full break from all the exhibitions and just sit for a while with a full meal; others like to grab some food and go.”

The most popular food items throughout all their venues are hot dogs, pretzels, ices, novelty ice cream and water.

“The popular foods don’t change, but we did expand our menu this year on the carts to include pulled pork and barbecue sandwiches, and our guests liked the additions,” Stouffer noted. “We also now have Southern Nachos and made-to-order burritos and tacos which are built in front of the guest. Our fast food concessions or stand-alone concessions and carts also now have BZ Red Hots which are hot dogs with seven ingredients including mustard, relish, onions, pickles, peppers, tomato slices and celery salt.  The Red Hots are very popular with guests.”

Along with the popular quick “zoo foods” Brookfield Zoo does offer more upscale fare in its sit down bistro.

“We understand that our guests’ palates have changed through the years and some guests even on zoo days like higher-end foods such as healthy-choice sandwiches and salads or burgers with leaner meats,” Stouffer said. “No matter where our guests choose to purchase food and snacks, we are ready with a variety of food to satisfy their hunger so they can continue on with their visit to our zoo.”

While carts and stand-alone concessions have increased their variety of offerings, Stouffer has not seen any new innovation to help with the fast food options.

“I haven’t seen any new equipment to make the carts and stand-alone service easier to operate,” he said.  “It’s important to understand what temperature is needed for each food item and it also helps to have high-quality food on the carts and stand-alones. You have to know which food does well in all types of weather conditions.”

About 90,000 guests annually visit the Henson Robinson Zoo in Springfield, Ill. The zoo is home to 300 animals representing more than 90 species.

“We do not have carts or stand-alone concessions, but we do offer a variety of traditional zoo food and some new menu choices as well,” said Laura A. Scott, visitor services supervisor.

The 165-square-foot food concession at Henson Robinson Zoo is adjacent to the gift shop. Most popular foods and beverages for guests include hot dogs, slushies, water bottles, bratwurst, corndogs, sandwiches, pretzels, nachos and candy.  Food is available from spring through fall, and the zoo maintains soda machines at different locations throughout the zoo.

“While we are not set up to receive customer feedback, we do always look at our menu items to see how we can make it more appealing to our guests,” Scott said.  “This year, we added sandwiches to our menu, and next year, we hope to add an ice cream freezer so we can have frozen treats available too.  As of now, we are not thinking about carts or stand-alone concessions. We think more along the lines of expanding choices in the space we have now.”

As Visitors Services Manager for the past five years for the Binghamton Zoo at Ross Park in Binghamton, N.Y., Joan Jackson oversees the food concession and gift shop.

The zoo operates one concession stand which is in the process of being remodeled.  With a building overhaul, the food concession will be larger with more seating and more menu items as well. The new stand, which opens in April 2013, will be offering more food items from traditional to healthier choices plus the concessions and building will be more guest-friendly.

“We are just investigating what we want to add to the menu, but along with our popular hot dogs, nachos, popcorn, ice cream, soda and soft pretzels, we will be looking at healthier items too as more people try to watch what they eat on a daily basis,” Jackson explained.  “Whatever we decide to add to the menu, we will keep in mind the pricing. Our food pricing is very reasonable and we do that on purpose to make our zoo more affordable for families so they can come often.  We want our guests to feel that the zoo is their place to enjoy as often as possible.” -

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