An executive chef at a stadium or arena knows that there is more to feeding 80,000 guests than grilling a few hot dogs. Today’s executive chefs balance fun and typical stadium and arena food with healthy alternatives so that all fans can enjoy snacks and meals that suit their tastes and dietary preferences.
Buffalo, N.Y.-based Delaware North Companies Sportservice, the original division of Delaware North Companies, is a leading provider of food and retail service at more than 55 sports and entertainment venues including MetLife Stadium in New Jersey, Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wis., U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago and Busch Stadium in St. Louis, Mo. The company has served food and beverages from every day events to the World Series, the National Hockey League, Major League Baseball’s All-Star Games, Stanley Cup Championships, the Olympic Games, and in 2014, the Super Bowl. While traditional stadium foods are still their most popular menu items, Sportservice continues to introduce menu options that reflect more healthy and organic choices.
Eric Borgia is the executive chef for Sportservice at MetLife Stadium, the 82,000-seat home of the New York Jets and New York Giants in East Rutherford, N.J. With so many loyal fans packing the stadium each weekend, Borgia knows that his food options have to appeal to a diverse and multi-cultural crowd of hungry fans.
“We have 850 points of sale for food at MetLife Stadium and the food choices include everything from sweets to catering,” Borgia noted. “For the Jets or Giants games, we feed 82,000 people per weekend and for concerts we have 90,000 or more not to mention private catering for corporate events, weddings and other galas. We have to think and plan for a variety of tastes and dietary needs. It’s not an easy job. And this year we are hosting the event of all events, the Super Bowl, so we have been planning for that already.”
Although Borgia has added vegetarian and vegan options to his concessions’ menus, he does concede that stadium comfort food is still the best seller.
“We do have the Asian noodle cart that gets a good amount of traffic and our chicken and spinach option at our very popular Italian Pork venue is also quite popular. Each year, we try out different vegetarian or more “nutritious” items, and if they sell, we keep them and if not, we adjust our menus. We have signage and all our staff know where the veggie, vegan, gluten-free buns and healthy food choices can be found in our concessions. We are committed to having the vegetables and healthy options, but by far, the most popular food items for MetLife Stadium are chicken tenders, hot dogs and Grilled Cheese which is actually a healthier food alternative in that it is made with real cheese on whole wheat bread and one can put veggies on top.”
At Bank of America Stadium, home to the NFL’s Carolina Panthers, Executive Chef John Morey oversees a variety of food operations that include 57 concessions, 25 food portables, five markets, two restaurants, four barbecue stands and two nacho trucks plus the food for the team, media and any other event that goes on in the stadium.
“It’s a continuous cycle for us. We try different menu choices and then make adjustments. We travel to other stadiums too to see what else is being served that might appeal to our fans,” Morey explained. “We have a diverse fan base so there is a need for healthier options and gluten-free choices.”
Morey noted that fans who opt for healthier choices, patronize the food markets, which are on each level in the park. Here fans can grab and go with their food choices and take them to their seats. Signage and a knowledgeable staff make it easy for fans to find the perfect food to meet their taste buds and nutritional needs. Since the stadium is located in Charlotte, N.C., regional southern food items are still the food of choice for most fans.
“Barbecue food is more popular than hot dogs because that is what the people here eat. Per game, we smoke thousands of pounds of pork, chicken wings, brisket and our barbecue sauce is even manufactured and available for purchase in the region.”
For those who prefer not to eat meat, the markets, general concessions and club level sites all serve salads that are the most popular “vegetable option.”
“Will the vegetarian and vegan options overtake our barbecue or meat options? No, the meat will always be our most popular food,” Morey said. “But there is enough of a fan base that wants these foods and that gives us the incentive to not only provide them but provide them in an appetizing and creative fashion. We want to enhance our fans’ experience here so we will happily provide what they want to eat.”
The 41,255-seat Comerica Park in Detroit, Mich., is home to the MLB’s Detroit Tigers. As Executive Chef for the stadium, Mark Szubeczak oversees approximately 100 concessions including portable carts, club level venues and built-in sites.
“Ball park food is the most popular food for our fans,” Szubeczak observed. “However, from day one of this stadium, we have had vegetarian and healthy items, and our menu for these items adjusts and grows each season.”
In the traditional food category, the most popular meat items are hot dogs, Italian sausage, riblet sandwiches and chicken tenders. For healthier fare, fans enjoy veggie trays with hummus and pita bread, fruit trays, sushi, salads and vegetarian hot dogs.
“I think part of the popularity of the veggie and more healthy options is that we use all local growers in support of them. Our fans know our food is fresh and they love that we give back to the community here,” Szubeczak said. “We are a determined and loyal city, especially when it comes to our sports, and if we can help each other out, we will.”
Fresh fruits and strawberries have gained a lot of attention this season with game day fans.
“We have a cart with strawberries and berries and cream, and we have tapped into the Hostess Twinkie comeback too offering Twinkie Strawberry shortcake and chocolate dipped Twinkies with fresh strawberries.”
Szubeczak noted that the stadium does a good job of letting fans know that there are other options besides traditional stadium food available.
“If we have the food, we want our fans to know where to get it so they can enjoy it, so we have ample signage, we post menus and we make sure our staff is aware of where the different food options are in the stadium.
Oklahoma City is home to the 18,200-seat Chesapeake Energy Arena and the 13,846-seat Cox Convention Center. Chesapeake Arena serves as home court for the NBA’s Oklahoma City Thunder while Cox features AHL Hockey games. SAVOR, whose parent company is West Conshohocken, Pa.-based SMG, the largest public facilities management company globally, operates the concession and food venues in the arenas. Executive Chef Andrew Murin offers fans and guests a variety of traditional arena food as well as healthy options. “
“At Chesapeake Energy Arena and even at Cox Convention center, we still see the popularity of stadium fare,” Murin noted. “We have basic concession stands, portables, full-service restaurants, specialty concessions and what we see each year is that our top two concessions are beer and water. As for food, it is chicken tenders, hot dogs, burgers, personal pizzas, nachos and Philly cheese steaks. For our healthier items, the popular choices are veggie wraps, Portobello mushroom veggie burgers, a rosemary polenta vegan entrée, veggie sticks and fruit salad.”
At the Chesapeake Arena fans who prefer the healthier menu items usually head for the Red River Bistro, which is one of two full-service restaurants in the facility.
“We take menu options and food choices very seriously, and we not only make sure to have a variety of food for those who want healthier or vegetarian items, but we make sure they are easily accessible and easily found in our arenas.”
Menus of all concessions are posted at guest relations stands throughout the arena and all employees have a list of concession sites. The menus are also posted on the arenas’ websites.
“We will always have these food options and it’s fun to be creative with the healthier options too,” Murin added. “Sometimes even the fan who would never try anything healthy will see one of our vegetarian or healthier options and give it a try and we usually get a convert – at least for a while.” –