You might come for the game, the concert, or the splashing fun, but eventually, you’ll want a bite to eat. At arenas, stadiums, and waterparks nationwide, food trends among guests are carefully evaluated, resulting in crave-able tasty treats.
At Prudential Center in Newark, N.J., Executive Chef Jason Choate has created many varied new dishes for the summer season, where the average guest spends approximately $22 on food and beverages. “We have everything from a grilled chicken sandwich with a mango jalapeno sauce to a diner-style patty melt but using a rye waffle as our bread. The waffle is just so good with the burger, it is absolutely amazing,” Choate said. “My personal favorite is our bacon-infused burger from our Jersey Grind burger stand. We do a number of infusion grinds, but the bacon ground into the patty, it’s so juicy and smoky; that’s a great item. We also use New Jersey Ashe County cheddar to top it.” Choate explained that these dishes were chosen as a way to create food that’s fresh and different. “Our catch-phrase of the year is ‘make simple great,’ ” he noted. “Part of what we are trying to do is create true Jersey food. We are the home of the diner, so it made sense to break into some of that diner food style and modernize it, freshen it up, and bring it to the fans here.”
While these exciting new menu items are popular, Choate’s best-selling food item remains traditional: chicken tenders. “I wish I had a better explanation as to why, other than that it’s a New Jersey favorite. They even outsell the hot dogs.”
As far as trends go, Choate related that sourcing locally and creating New Jersey-centric menu items are at the top of the trending list. “For example, we source our burgers with New Jersey beef, and our lettuce, tomatoes, and corn all come from local purveyors. We’ve done a big push during our off-season to bring in local produce and ingredients.”
In Hoover, Ala., David Montgomery, food and beverage director for Hoover Metropolitan Stadium, also has a wide range of new items on his menu. Many of these items are available at a new area of the park called the Switch Yard. Here, two airstream trailers called the Bar Stream and the Food Stream serve food and beverages. The venues offer a different menu on game days from non-game days, when the area remains open.
“The Bar Stream has 20 taps, including many local brews. All the local breweries are represented, and we are really proud of that. The food and beverage area has a built-in bocce ball court, outdoor ping-pong, and corn-hole boards. It’s a really fun, nice area,” he related. And the food? “On game days our menu includes Asian Chicken Crisp, which is similar to a toasted tortilla pizza with marinated chicken breast, mozzarella cheese, red onions, cilantro, and an Asian sesame sauce glaze. It’s made right in the food truck, and the crust is very thin and crispy.” Also popular are several wraps, including a Cajun wrap, and a turkey bacon wrap. “Those are tortilla-wrapped sandwiches served with fresh fried tortilla chips and salsa. We also serve a giant pretzel. On non-game days our menu is more expansive.” Montgomery reported that these items were selected to be “unique, high in quality, and super yummy, but not something so upscale it would cost itself out of the ballpark. We wanted something that you’d find was great on game day, and that you’d come back and get on non-game days as well, items that are made to order and well put together.”
As a trend, Montgomery said guests’ changing preferences in beer is a strong one. “It’s becoming more appealing for people to explore different types of craft beers. It’s been a dynamic thing in our city, and we’re representing it here.”
Montgomery cited his best-selling food items as more traditional fare. “Hot dogs and chicken fingers are probably still best. We serve them in all concession areas, and as far as the volume and amount of product that we serve, those are just built-in ball park favorites. We have a high- quality all beef hot dog and high-quality chicken fingers. We also have non-traditional items such as ribs, sandwiches, and sausages affiliated with a local BBQ spot, Dreamland. Those sell extremely well, too.”
In Palm Springs, Calif. at Palm Springs Stadium, home of Palm Springs Power Baseball, Assistant General Manager Tyler Hughes reported that there were no new menu additions this season, but several years ago, local Coachella Valley Brewery craft beer was added, and has proven a popular beverage. “Our concessions primarily offer all the basic, fun ballpark food, hot dogs, hamburgers, nachos,” he explained. The stadium’s guests spend approximately $20 per person on concession items, and its best-selling food item is hot dogs. “Everyone comes to the ballpark to eat hot dogs, drink beer, and watch the game. People are also really into ice cream.”
At Orleans Arena in Las Vegas, Nev., Food and Beverages Operations Manager Chaz Morton added cooked-to-order chicken wings to their menu for the 2017 summer season. “We tried to capitalize on the chicken trend, which is definitely a thing here. We offer a variety of different kinds of sauces; the wings come with a choice of two. The selection includes chipotle lime, Parmesan garlic, BBQ, Ranch, cocktail sauce, and a sweet and sour option.” While the wings are popular, Morton said “Our number one product varies between freshly-made popcorn and cooked-to-order chicken fingers.” However, the most popular items vary by event. “We have diverse events from Spanish Baile musical concerts to food shows and cheerleading events. In the evening, favorites skew toward chicken fingers and hot dogs; during the day, we see more popcorn and smoothies as top sellers.” Also popular is Montgomery’s personal favorite. “I love the arena burgers. They’re made to order from local beef, and they’re extremely juicy.” Guests at Orleans Arena tend to spend about $15 on concessions.
At Wet ‘N’ Wild Phoenix waterpark in Glendale, Ariz., Food and Beverages Director Rick Iafrate said the most popular food items include a mix of staples and carnival-style fare. “We do well with funnel cakes, Indian fry bread, and Dippin’ Dots, as well as with burgers, pizza, and chicken strips. On the healthier side, the park offers salads, sub sandwiches, fresh fruit and yogurt. New this season are fruit smoothies, which have been a hit with our guests.” Guests spend an average of $9 per person on food and beverages at the park. Andrea Harvey, marketing and sales director, said that the fry bread and fresh cut fries were added last year, and are a part of the trend she sees at the park. “People are seeking items that are freshly made on-site.”
At Safeco Field in Seattle, Wash., Rebecca Hale, director of information for Safeco and the Seattle Mariners, has a surprising best-seller in a new addition to the food options at the park – toasted grasshoppers, added in April 2017. “We brought in a well-known Seattle restaurant this season, Poquitos, to do the menu at the ballpark’s Edgar’s restaurant,” she attested. Edgar’s, named for former Mariners’ designated hitter and third baseman Edgar Martinez, was already programmed with what Hale calls Northwest Mex, including street tacos and other traditional foods. Poquitos added the Oaxacan delicacy of toasted grasshoppers, seasoned with lime, chilies, salt and seasoning. “People went a little crazy for them. For the first two months, we couldn’t keep them in stock. They would sell out before the game even started. They still sell incredibly well.”
When it comes to trends, Hale sees a focus on fresh Northwest cuisine. “Our concession partner, Centerplate, has been working with noted Seattle chef Ethan Stowell,” Hale asserted. “He’s working with Centerplate to tweak our menus, and bring in providers from the Seattle area. Some of his top dishes include a toasted Dungeness crab sandwich, and Seattle wings made of fried oysters with a spiced-buffalo wing sauce, as well as a terrific thin-crust pizza with dough we actually make in-house.” Another new item that’s selling strongly for Safeco Field is a made-to-order ice cream sandwich. Guests can choose the cookie type, or even a brownie, select from three or four different ice cream flavors, and have the edge rolled in toppings such as M & Ms or Fruity Pebbles. Beverages are a top hitter too: with 70 percent of all the taps at the ballpark microbrews or craft beers. “We have a good reputation with the beer nerds here in Seattle, too,” Hale laughed.
From craft brews to freshly made and locally sourced food items, all in all it’s shaping up to be one delicious season at arenas, stadiums, and waterparks across the United States.