Food Service Spotlight on Major League Baseball – Stepping Up to Bat for Menu Innovations

While there is no doubt that hot dogs and peanuts remain ballpark staples, the fact is that the average sports fan has expanded to a more sophisticated palate in recent years. This knowledge has created a challenge for concessionaires to develop an ever-changing menu of fresh and interesting delicacies that appeal to the fans.
“Food says a lot about the culture, or the heart, of a city,” said Matt Krauss, operations manager for the Chicago White Sox, in Chicago, Ill. “If you know what the city enjoys, in terms of food, and can bring that culture to the ballpark, you will have a lot of success.”
Krauss described Chicago as not just a hot dog-loving city, but as a meat and potatoes town. With this in mind, the 2012 menu was enhanced. Added this season is the cevapcici, which is very popular in the local neighborhoods and street parties. Cevapcici consists of minced meat links served with pita bread, diced onions, red pepper, eggplant and a zesty sauce. “We also added a loaded baked potato, pastrami bacon on a Vienna hot dog, two kinds of stuffed burgers, after we noticed a desire for a premium burger, and a Hooters buffalo wing location,” Krauss said. All the new menu items have been well received by White Sox fans this season.
Fans of the Houston Astros, in Houston, Texas, are partial to Texas-themed foods, in particular, food with a flair of Tex-Mex. “We have a diverse population here in Houston and we always take into consideration what foods are trending when fine-tuning our menu,” said Greg Herbst, director of sales for Aramark, the concessionaire for the Astros.
Keeping in mind the love for Tex-Mex, Herbst has teamed up with a local celebrity chef to create a new take on nachos and fajitas. A mac and cheese burger was also added to the 2012 menu. “Everyone loves burgers and also mac and cheese, so we added a fried mac and cheese patty to our burger,” said Herbst. “We’ve also enhanced our hot dogs, so we now offer an andouille corn dog and a cheddar jalapeno hot dog. Also, we have our new short rib sliders.”
Herbst then went on to discuss the efforts that are being made to accommodate vegetarians and those more health-conscious fans. “We have our ‘green fork concept,’ which is our way to enhance vegetarian options,” said Herbst. “Those seeking a vegetarian-friendly meal can create their own salad, with the fixings of their choice. There is also a new veggie melt that is selling very well,” Herbst remarked.
“We are always looking for new and different items to add to the menu. Ballpark food has changed. You have to be innovative to give people a reason to keep opening their wallets,” stated Herbst.
A few new items have been added to the 2012 menu at Target Field, home of the Minnesota Twins. Concessions Manager Barry McCabe said that localization is important when designing a ballpark menu. “Look at what is popular in your city or community and incorporate it into the menu as much as possible.”
Fried pickles were a hit at the state fair, so they were brought on as a new menu item this year and are selling nicely. Also new are the loaded baked potato and loaded yam, as well as garlic fries. “Many new additions to the menu are based on client partnerships, so we have a mega-meatball this year, from our partnership with a Minnesota restaurant and we have mini-donuts, which are also due to a client-based sponsorship,” said McCabe.
Robert Thormeier, general manager for Delaware North Companies, concessionaire for the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park, prefers to test local restaurants to see what is selling. “We design the menu based on trends,” said Thormeier. “For example, Five Guys burgers are popular right now, so that thought led to a decision to create our 313 Burger stand. Here, fans can order a fresh single or double burger and it is reminiscent of that Five Guys experience.”
Thormeier has also noted a grilled cheese trend and has piggy-backed on that idea to create what he called “grown-up grilled cheese sandwiches”, which are either a grilled turkey and swiss sandwich, or may have pepper jack or other Michigan cheeses. “We are trying to provide local ingredients, so we bring in local cheese and bread from a local baker,” said Thormeier.
You might find something a bit different at Miller Park, home of the Milwaukee Brewers. “Of course we have the standard ballpark fare of burgers, nachos, fries and sodas, because that will always be the staple, but we also like to change up the menu to feature some flavors that are reminiscent of the visiting team,” said Food and Beverage Director Dave Marguth. “For example, when Minnesota was here, we had a walleye Reuben sandwich, which did really well.”
This being a meat and potatoes kind of town, Marguth recently added some new items to the menu that reflected those preferences. “We have a new brand of bratwurst, as well as a barbeque parfait and both are doing great. The parfait consists of pulled barbequed pork, brisket and mashed potatoes, layered in a sundae cup and topped with gravy and is really delicious,” Marguth said.
Of course, Milwaukee is also all about beer, so there are many options for beer drinkers located all around the park. “We are Miller Park, after all,” laughed Marguth.
In addition to looking at the demographic to see where preferences lie, seasonality is another area to consider, according to Robert Flowers, executive chef for Citi Field, home of the New York Mets. “Summer is big time baseball season, and also presents an opportunity for lots of fresh produce and other ingredients. We bring in many fresh items from within a 150-mile radius. It seems the ballpark fan’s palate is changing and that switches the whole paradigm of the menu,” Flowers said.
Some of the changes to the 2012 menu are based around using sustainable seafood, such as a new scallop dish and Mediterranean sea bass. Fans can now also find Two Boots Pizza at the ballpark, which is a local, popular pizza restaurant. Reuben nachos are also available, which is basically all the ingredients of a Reuben sandwich on top of nachos, and has been a big hit.
“All our new items have really taken off,” said Flowers. “Things have changed and these days people really do enjoy eating great, interesting and quality food at a ballgame.” –

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