A short time ago, our colleagues in the Department of Public Safety received a Stop Bias complaint from an individual reporting what appeared to be an anti-Semitic symbol drawn on a white board in Hinds Hall. An immediate investigation revealed…
Concessions Upgrades at the Stadium to Enhance the Game Day Experience for Fans
When the Carrier Dome opened back in 1980, the game day experience was different. Simple. Bare bones. You drove to the game, parked, watched the game, got back in your car, went home.
“In the 1970s and 80s, there was no thought put into the food experience, drinks or retail at sporting events,” says Michael Bekolay, founder and CEO of Venue Hospitality Solutions. “The architects back then didn’t focus on ‘dwell time,’ or the experience happening beyond the field of play. Food and drink options were simple and maybe you had a hot dog, a popcorn or a fountain soda.”
Bekolay would know. He has been in the business of stadium hospitality for over 35 years, working with some of the world’s most popular sports franchises, including the New York Yankees, Dallas Cowboys and Manchester City Football Club. He came to Syracuse in fall 2019, when Auxiliary Services and Dome Operations began considering what the fan experience could become once the building’s renovation was complete.
Jennifer Uryniak, executive director for budget and operations in Auxiliary Services, had heard the feedback from stadium visitors—the lines were too long, the food was uninspired and the concourses crowded easily. Fans expected more. The goal she set was deceptively simple: deliver a superior experience for fans at sporting events, concerts and other events held at the stadium.
When the doors open Saturday for the first home football game of the 2021-22 season, a major step will have been taken toward that goal: eight upgraded concessions stands and a new way of operating that prioritizes the gameday experience. As Bekolay put it, the guiding principle for the renovations was, “You solve for the fan experience first, and then figure out your operations around that.”
Kris Klinger, senior associate vice president for Auxiliary Services, focused his team’s efforts on three main improvements: enhancing food quality by adding modern cooking capabilities to the renovated stands, reducing the need to stand in separate lines by selling alcohol and food at the same locations, and introducing a self-service model at the stands, where the customer selects the items they wish to purchase and then moves to the cashless point of sale.
All three improvements will be on display Saturday. There are four new stands on the first level, two selling chicken (’Cuse Chicken Express) and two selling burgers (The Loud House Grille). The new menu items were purposefully selected, says Bekolay. The focus was on selecting items that are broadly popular and sold well, both nationally and at the previous iterations of the concessions stands.
“We are aiming to make simple great,” says Bekolay. “We do not want to be in the business of overcomplicating, so our new menus are intentionally very focused.”
The design of the new stands is notable, as well: eliminating walls and introducing open-kitchen cooking has become popular at stadiums around the country. The new state-of-the-art equipment at each remodeled stand will provide high-quality food in a short period of time, says Jon Webster, executive director of hospitality in Auxiliary Services.
“A reduced preparation time means the food is cooked closer to when fans eat it, which improves the quality of the food,” Webster says. “From a culinary standpoint, we didn’t do anything crazy, but we spent a lot of time putting together very tasty iterations of our burger and chicken sandwich and that is exactly what we think the fans are looking for.”
On the second level, four new grab-and-go markets (each called Otto’s Fast Break) will offer a combination of snacks and beverages. Express locations like these are a major trend in stadium hospitality, says Klinger, with “Amazon Go-like” stores entering the marketplace. The four market locations will allow fans to hand-pick the items they would like and then check out quickly, eliminating the traditional “belly-up” counter ordering experience that caused long lines to back up into the concourse.
While the focus for this year remains on “getting great at core items” and offering simple, high-quality products, plans are already underway for what comes next, Klinger says. “This year is phase one,” he says. “We are in the design process now for phase two, to renovate the remaining stands and to create more menu diversity with local brands and partners.”
For Bekolay, the changes underway at Syracuse are to be expected for an operation that is aiming to become a best-in-class leader. They’re drawing notice from his peers in the stadium hospitality industry. And they’re a long, long way from the days of menus that only featured fountain sodas, hot dogs and popcorn.