SBJ/October 30 - November 5, 2006/SBJ In Depth

Venues turn to design to boost concessions

Designing concessions at sports facilities is an inexact science, according to food-service company executives and arena and stadium designers.

“There is no one cookie-cutter print,” said Todd Wickner, chief operating officer for Ovations Food Services.

The challenge is to design enough fixed and portable stands to maximize food and drink revenue and provide enough space for fans to navigate the concourses without creating traffic jams.

“It’s all about having the right number of points of service to cover the area so people won’t go looking for a concession stand,” said food-service consultant Chris Bigelow. “Put them in their path. Fans come in the ballpark and find where the rest rooms and their seats are first, so the key is to have concessions in those zones.”

Consumers prefer open concourses that provide a view
of the action as they wait in line to order food and drinks.

When planning a new facility, concessionaires research other sports venues in the region to collect information on buying patterns, Wickner said. Food-service officials also compile data on parking and public transportation to find out the busiest arena and stadium entrances so they can design the food stands near those locations to accommodate the biggest crowds.

“We ask who’s parking where, where the buses are dropping off, what percentage of patrons are coming in at one [particular] end,” said Ken Young, Ovations’ president.

When a new facility opens, bottlenecks inevitably pop up during the first few events as people gravitate toward the first concession stand they see upon entering the building. Concession and building managers then work together to make adjustments to ease traffic flow, and that normally means moving portables and kiosks to better locations.

“Everybody has learned from experience and every design gets better and better as you anticipate the general patterns of customers,” Wickner said. “We are always tweaking [layouts] because of the nuances, but it shouldn’t have to be a major undertaking if you do your homework.”

It’s easier said than done. Young pointed to a recent experience at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, an Aramark account.

“I was at a Bucs game [Sept. 24] on the club level and the food stands at the top of the escalator were jammed 25 minutes before kickoff; the lines were 12 deep,” Young said.

“One hundred and fifty feet down the concourse, there was another location with eight to 10 points of sale and nobody was in line. It wasn’t a case of not having enough coverage and that’s an existing facility. Sometimes, the research doesn’t add up.”

Portable stands at Petco Park blend
well with the stadium’s architecture.

Concessionaires generally develop one point of sale for every 120 to 150 people, based on a formula that takes into account the number of seats in a specific section and the size of a fixed stand, said Kathy Sweeney, director for Aramark’s Innovative Design Solutions division. Any more than that can lead to stackups, based on past experiences, Sweeney said.

The trend toward building wider, comfortable concourses, 15 to 20 feet bigger on average and expanding up to 50 feet in width, creates additional space and concessionaires can design bigger permanent stands, she said.

“You don’t need as many portables, which can get in the way of a person’s view of the field,” Sweeney said. “Portables are limited with counter space and utilities and you often need something that is totally flexible.”

Sometimes, however, a concessionaire has only 25 feet of linear space to work with for a stand that should be 40 feet long. “That’s when you get involved in portable units,” Sweeney said.

HOK Sport senior principal Earl Santee has helped design about 20 MLB stadiums and he prefers portable-free ballparks.

“They have a tendency to cause circulation problems and double-load the concourse,” Santee said. “Most concessions are on one side of the concourse and putting portables on the other side creates two lines and they have a tendency to overlap and are a challenge to overcome.”

Portables “are good for one or two items but you don’t have the production and storage space” compared to fixed stands, Bigelow said. “You can’t always say ‘I’m going to put in portables’ to make up for the loss of space for permanent stands.”

Teams and concessionaires that feel they must put out kiosks to boost food income should design them to complement the facility’s design, and the San Diego Padres’ two-year-old ballpark is one example, Santee said.

“The portables at Petco Park fit the architecture and are appropriate to the building,” he said. “Graphically, they have a similar typeface, and are tied into the building’s stainless steel and glass. They should be focused on and have a connection to the game.”

The trend toward designing open concourses at sports facilities allows fans to continue to follow the game action when they leave their seats to buy food and drink, and in theory, increases per caps.

“When it’s an open concourse, people are more apt to get up and buy something,” Wickner said. “People are gathering in those open spaces due to the great sight lines and you are still part of the event.”

The only problem is open concourses pigeon-hole concessions, rest rooms, first aid and other fan-service areas against the back wall to avoid those spaces blocking concourse walkways, Bigelow said. “There is a lot of demand for limited space,” he said.

360 Architecture is designing the Class AAA Columbus Clippers’ new downtown ballpark and the firm is attempting to reach a happy medium by planning an open-concourse facility that contains fixed stands against the back wall and behind the last row of seats in the lower bowl. The design is partly a function of building a lounge behind home plate for club-seat holders, said 360 principal Brad Schrock.

“It’s like oceanfront property,” Schrock said. “There is only so much space and it’s challenging to get the stands all on one side, and that’s why you have a lot of portables pop up.”

The fact that stadiums are growing in size and square footage makes it less of a challenge to design concessions in an open concourse, Sweeney said. “As long as the space is available on the concourse itself, there is no limit.”

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