This fall, University of California-Berkeley Dining Services Director Shawn LaPean took on responsibility for concession operations at the school’s newly renovated football stadium. We asked him what he’s learned from the experience so far…
What were the biggest challenges with managing concessions for the first time?
LaPean: Everything! Concession food is very basic, but it’s what fans want. While we do specialty items like portobella mushroom sandwiches, it’s still the hot dog that reigns supreme. Operationally, it all comes down to logistics and preparedness before the game. Once the action starts, if you aren’t successfully set up, you’ll be scrambling through the entire event and never catch up.
Factors like timing, the weather and the opponent all have a huge impact on sales. Our fans tend to spend more at Pac-12 games and less at non Pac-12 games [Editor’s Note: Cal-Berkeley is in the Pacific 12 Athletic Conference along with schools like Stanford, USC and UCLA, but also plays a few games each year against schools not in the Pac-12].
Night games have lower sales than noon games because in the evening people eat more prior to a game; at noon, people come hungry. Finally, the scalability of what you do is important. For example, we had to use a hummus cup with mini pretzels just for speed of service. You can’t scoop out portions to order and keep up with the demand!
What significant problems did you run up against that you didn’t anticipate?
LaPean: We knew the new stadium was “game” ready, but that meant something different to the athletics department than to us. MEP—mechanical, electrical and plumbing—were all issues. We only had five days in the stadium and two days in the kitchen prior to opening. The constrained availability of elevators was a surprise issue. I walked up and down eight flights of stairs all day long—and I’m too old for that!
But really, we had anticipated most problems because we had a professional consultant, Theresa Traulsen, and had hired an excellent management crew: John Gibson, who was at Texas Tech and Texas A&M prior to coming on board, and Frank Passanese, who has managed locations like Boston Garden.
What are the numbers looking like so far, versus last year?
LaPean: Last year we didn’t have a newly renovated stadium, but our sales in football alone look to be triple any previous game. Our sales per cap, including sub contractors and liquor, have been above $6 every game. Previous per caps averaged $2.74. We’re heading into our “big game” this weekend with [arch-rival] Stanford, so we’re expecting high sales due to the expected higher attendance.
Your best piece of advice to other directors taking on concessions?
LaPean: I say go for it! This adventure has connected Cal Dining to the campus at a whole new level. It’s providing opportunities for revenues and campus relationships that will pay off in tangible and intangible benefits to Cal Dining and our team for the next 15 years, which is our current contract length.