SBJ/20090126/Super Bowl XLIII

Concessionaires prepare for a daylong food fest

The Super Bowl is unlike any other live event. Nobody knows that better than the concessionaires faced with feeding more than 70,000 people lunch, dinner, and perhaps even a late breakfast for what has become an all-day buffet for spectators attending the game.

One of the first things Steve Trotter did after settling into his job as Centerplate’s general manager at University of Phoenix Stadium was make hotel reservations for 45 company chefs and front-house managers supporting its food operation at the 2008 Super Bowl in Glendale, Ariz.

Trotter, a veteran of four Super Bowls, knew he had to make those calls, as well as book rental cars for those Centerplate officials, 2 1/2 years before the Super Bowl — a time that was even months before the stadium opened for the Arizona Cardinals.

Indeed, that’s the enormous stretch of lead time it now takes for food providers to get ready for the Super Bowl, said Joe Glynn, Aramark’s director of operations at Reliant Stadium in Houston, site of the 2004 contest.

“I was in on the early stages of planning [the facility], and it was geared toward the Super Bowl: what it would take with points-of-sale and the appropriate amount of stock,” Glynn said. “[The Super Bowl] is basically 2 1/2 games, with all the commercial breaks. People come early, and it’s a very long event.”

Stadiums stock 2 1/2 to three times as
much as they would for a regular game.

The food per caps reflect the daylong food fest, where gates open four hours before kickoff compared with two hours before a regular-season game. This year, it’s Levy Restaurants, the concessions firm at Raymond James Stadium, that will be serving Super Bowl patrons.

Levy has operated stadium concessions for three Super Bowls previously, most recently in 2006, at Ford Field in Detroit. In Tampa, the concessionaire plans to deploy 24 executive chefs from around the country in addition to 150 line cooks, prep cooks and other kitchen staff. Approximately 2,900 nonprofit and part-time workers will be employed for the effort, company officials said.

For the 2007 game, Boston Culinary Group reported a $78.50 per cap despite a steady rain at Dolphin Stadium in Miami. Revenue from suites, club seats and concessions exceeded $4.4 million, while game-day catering added another $1.2 million.

By comparison, the per cap for a regular-season NFL game can range from the high teens to $20, said Sal Ferrulo, Boston Culinary Group’s senior vice president. “That number gives you an idea of the magnitude of the Super Bowl,” Ferrulo said.

The sales totals also reflect variable pricing, where beers and hot dogs are priced a few dollars more than during the regular season — as approved by the NFL — and spending is heavier in the premium areas, where the corporate crowd is entertaining its best customers.

For concessionaires, the preparations for Super Bowl Sunday have especially increased in scope since the 2001 terrorist attacks, which changed the rules forever for how the NFL gears up for the game.

All food service workers face a background
check before they are allowed on site.

For example, food service firms have to comply with background checks for all their Super Bowl workers, a number that ballooned from 1,200 part-timers for a Dolphins game to 3,500 for the NFL title game, Ferrulo said. Individuals must submit their applications by the first week of January, and there are always some who do not clear those checks and are turned down for temporary employment, he said.

As for having enough product on hand, the events of 9/11 ushered in a new policy for ordering supplies.

“You’re forecasting for 2 1/2 to three times a normal sold-out game, and if it’s not on the property [by kickoff], you’re not getting it,” Glynn said. “Before, you may have been able to run a beer truck in the gates during the game, and people looked the other way. Now, with FBI checks and lockdowns … everything has to be ordered weeks, months in advance. You can’t call your local Bud distributor and have him send somebody over.”

The pressure to perform a flawless food operation increases in the premium areas. To make it easier for those corporate clients and the food providers, concessionaires now routinely provide three-course meals for Super Bowl skybox patrons, compared with a la carte options during the regular season.

“Every suite has the company’s CEO and No. 1 client, so we took the approach that ‘Here’s three great packages, all-inclusive,’ so they don’t have to worry about re-ordering,” Glynn said.

The easiest way to make sure everybody in the stadium is happy and well-fed is to keep it simple, provide enough points of sale with permanent stands and portable units, and “flood the bowl with hawkers and vendors” so fans don’t miss a play, Glynn said.

“We don’t change who we are as a company,” he said. “Nobody’s leaving early to beat traffic. There’s no falloff: 72,500 have tickets, and 72,500 are coming. People spend. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, so their thinking is ‘Let’s enjoy ourselves and splurge.’ ”

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