Modern stadiums boost their foodie credentials
Food has an increasingly important role to play in creating a memorable match day experience.
From fast food classics to steak, sushi and salad, stadiums are revamping both their facilities and their menus to span street food and chef-led restaurants.
When London’s Tottenham Hotspur Stadium opens, the 62,000-seat space will be home to a vast range of eating choices, including fine-dining menus designed by Michelin-star chefs, grills and barbecues, and an in-house craft brewery.
“Stadiums are investing in their catering as they play catch-up with other leisure and entertainment destinations, and we’re seeing a massive increase in the variety of their menus,” says Ken Higman, Director at JLL Foodservice Consulting.
Where general admission concession stands were once confined to hot dogs and burgers, today’s stadiums are not only improving the range of classic fare on offer, but they’re increasingly offering vegetarian options and food flavours from around the world. At Seattle’s Safeco Field, for example, a menu designed with local restauranteur Ethan Stowell includes Taiwanese street food, lobster rolls, and brownies, cakes and ice-cream from local artisans.
On-site bars, often tied by licensing rights to serve a single beer, are widening their range to include specialist beers – and at the Brighton and Hove Albion Stadium, the away stand serves a rotating line-up of beer local to the visiting team.
“Customers are growing increasingly food-savvy and they want – and expect - variety and quality,” Higman says. “Enhanced catering is a way to attract fans to arrive earlier, extending the time spent at the stadium, and, ideally, driving revenue.”
Food as an experience
Specialty food stands are being designed with foodie culture in mind. At SunTrust Park, home of the Atlanta Braves, chef-driven eateries are set up by sought-after local restaurateurs, eschewing pickup windows for open-plan stands where fans can see food being prepared.
“The idea is to show fans the cooking and plating process, creating more of an experience around eating at the stadium,” says Don Loudermilk, National Director, Sports at JLL.
Stadiums have traditionally struggled with the limited time periods within which they can sell food, and the huge volumes of people who want to be served in this precise windows. Encouraging fans to arrive with plenty of time before games start not only increases the potential for more sales, but eases the strain on caterers to serve tens of thousands of fans.
Technological innovations, particularly in newer stadiums where digital features can be built in from the outset, are increasingly focused on reducing queue times and waste, with dedicated apps that allow fans to pre-order food for pickup, saving valuable minutes at halftime, or in certain ticket classes, order food and drink for delivery to seats.
At London’s Vitality Stadium, for example, a pre-order app has slashed waiting times to under fifteen seconds, while in San Francisco, the Levi’s Stadium app can be used to order food delivered to premium seats.
Broadening fan bases
While fans in top-end seating such as private boxes can still take advantage of fine dining, many of today’s stadiums are coming up with new ways to provide a better food experience at different price points.
“The quality of basic offerings is increasing, with some stadiums lowering the price of family friendly foods, while at the same time, the various tiers of premium offerings are also being enhanced,” says Loudermilk.
At Wembley Stadium, for example, fans can eat at standard concession stands, join Club Wembley for an annual fee to purchase food from premium stands, or splash out on hospitality packages that include five-course meals at a restaurant overlooking the pitch.
“A lot of this is about enhancing the fan experience, including for those who may not be the biggest sports fans,” says Loudermilk. “By offering more amenities – such as great food – around the game itself, the event becomes more of a day out for the whole family, helping broaden the fan base.”
SunTrust Park, for instance, is built within a one million square foot space with shops, restaurants and a hotel, while the Tottenham Hotspur will have restaurants that are also open to the public, blurring the boundaries between a sports venue and a community-friendly space.
Future of the game
As more stadiums look to improve their matchday experience – and fans travelling to watch games in different cities start to notice the differences - more venues will need to reconsider what they’re offering in terms of facilities and food options.
“Food will be the driving force of the stadium experience and technology is going to enable some crucial operational streamlining with features such as delivery to seat becoming mainstream,” Loudermilk says.
Digital screens could become more widespread as a tool for promoting spontaneous food and drink offers – for example, by capturing fan sentiment after a game is won or lost with a timely deal, suggests Higman.
Of course, the variety and quality of food on offer will continue to be crucial – and Higman believes that a more localised experience is on its way, as operators look to build connections between a stadium and the surrounding community, including contracting local chefs and brands.
“Building that experience before and after the game will be increasingly important for engaging with fans – and people are more interested in food and drink than ever before,” he concludes.