Arenas and Stadiums:
Why the Old Ball Game Is Serving Up New Menu Choices

You are decked out in the colors of your favorite sports team.  The roar of the crowd sends shivers of excitement down your spine.  As you cheer on your team, the aroma of popcorn fills the air and you sink your teeth into a delicious hot dog.  While your team may not always be dependable, stadium food sure is.  Those staples: hot dogs, popcorn, burgers and soft pretzels, are what you crave at ball games, and new, delectable items are always being created to tantalize those taste buds.  
Centerplate is the largest food service provider to the NFL and caters to 250 North American sports, entertainment and convention venues.  Centerplate services the Louisiana Superdome in New Orleans, Louisiana and Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego, Calif., among many others.  
Scott Marshall, vice president and general manager for Centerplate at Qualcomm Stadium described the new direction in which Centerplate catered stadiums are headed.  “In addition to the traditional stadium fare, we are now celebrating local flavors and trying out organic smoothies and rolled tacos.”  
Marshall also said that the focus is on menu options for every fan.  That means offering gluten-free or soy products for fans with special dietary needs.  “It is not necessarily about coming out with one or two new, hot products, but instead, ensuring that there is food that every guest can enjoy,” Marshall said.
As far as trends in stadium foods, Marshall remarked that the public is more informed than ever about food, due to the media.  “People are more aware than ever about calories, freshness of food, what goes into their food and overall quality.  We want to make thoughtful, considerate decisions about the food we serve.  We want to emphasize freshness, from how food is brought into the stadium to how it is prepared.  That is what we see as the new trend in stadium food.”
Behind every delicious meal at the stadium is a food service worker serving the meal.  Training these workers on how to handle all types of situations is imperative, particularly how to handle large crowds in a timely fashion.  “That first 15 minutes of halftime can get pretty intense.  We work hard with the employees to train them to feel comfortable in this fast-paced, crowded situation.  That is probably their biggest challenge.  Our goal is to have their level of service be the best it can be,” Marshall said.
During a game at the Rose Garden in Portland, Ore., it is the job of Ovations, Rose Garden’s food and beverage provider, to deliver quality food to as many as 20,000 enthusiastic fans.  Tony Hendryx, area manager for Ovations, stated that the latest mentality regarding food is “fresh, local and sustainable.”  Hendryx said, “We now serve a fresh, local, certified Angus burger, from farm-raised Angus beef.  Because it is a local product, it is always served fresh, never frozen.  Our hot dogs are also fresh, as well as our bread, which is from the local Beaverton Bakery.”  All products used to serve food are fully compostable and Ovations considers themselves to be a leader in this industry trend.
While traditional stadium food, such as hot dogs and burgers, is always a must, Hendryx said a new trend is to focus on local flavors.  “We serve all the standards, but focus on more local food trends.  At the Rose Garden we have brought in salmon and also hazelnuts and we play this up in our menu as much as possible,” Hendryx said.
The food service staff at the Rose Garden can consist of as many as 800 employees or as little as 75, during off-season, and they are constantly in training mode.  “With our employees, we sometimes find that it is the first time these folks have ever been employed and it is our job to integrate them into a working environment.  We have training classes on how to interact with guests and fellow employees.  We teach them how to get along in any work environment and to create cohesive work groups, so the staff can all work together amicably,” Hendryx said.
Verizon Arena, in Little Rock, Ark., provides a venue for sports, concerts, meeting, banquets, conventions and exhibitions.  The stadium holds 18,000 people and one of the biggest challenges the staff faces is having to serve a large crowd, sometimes 15,000 people at once, during a show’s intermission.  Jamie Allen, director of food and beverage, said that their number one priority is customer service.  “It is so important to be prepared and to be able to provide information to the customers, such as where other concession stands are in the building, to keep congestion down.  We offer training for our staff to teach them what to do when they are bombarded and how to handle an out-of-control crowd.”
Allen said that people expect a certain kind of food when they come to a stadium, so it is important to provide those staples and the latest trend is quality.  “We give guests the food they want, but at a higher quality. Our popcorn chicken, chicken tenders and hot dogs are top-notch.  All the food is fresh,” said Allen.  New in the past year at Verizon Arena are the jumbo and jumbo cheese-stuffed pretzels.
PETCO Park in San Diego, Calif., which opened in 2004, is the home of the San Diego Padres.  Sue Fullington is the general manager of California Sportservice, the company that runs all concessions at the park.  
Fullington agreed with Scott Marshall from Qualcomm that it is imperative to include gluten-free options on the menu, for the many fans who have Celiac disease.  “Among our hot, new products for 2010 are gluten-free hot dog and hamburger buns, veggie and hummus packs, salads, pretzels and popcorn – all of which are wheat, barley and rye-free,” Fullington said.
Fullington remarked that there is an increasing trend for variety and made-to-order options.  “We have responded to this trend by bringing healthier food options to PETCO Park, including sushi, salads, fruit and yogurt.  We are also offering more made-to-order choices, such as burritos and stir-fry dishes.  Local favorites, like our Baja bistro shrimp tacos are also a big hit,” Fullington said.
It is clear that people are taking the time to take better care of their bodies by eating healthier meals and, to be sure, they also want to make sure the food they are putting in their bodies is as fresh as it can be.  That is one of the biggest challenges presented to food service workers, according to Fullington.  “Gone are the days when a vendor hands you a hot dog that was wrapped in foil an hour ago, now cold and stuck in a soggy bun.  We have invested in grills, combi ovens and other new equipment. Our accomplished, executive chefs oversee the training of other chefs to ensure that food is prepared fresh on the grill, skillet or wok,” Fullington said.  Fullington’s goal is to provide stadium favorites, alongside healthier options, all of which are served up fresh. –

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