Sodexo Makes Gains At Hollywood Bowl

Three years into food deal at amphitheater, per caps have increased each year

  • by Brad Weissberg
  • Published: October 30, 2018

Guests enjoy the Sodexo-Lucques Group concessions at L.A.'s open-air Hollywood Bowl. (Courtesy Centerplate)

The Hollywood Bowl, Los Angeles’ open-air 96-year-old concert landmark, has a long tradition of allowing guests to bring their own food and beverage onto the premises for a show and enjoy a picnic and bottle of wine before a show.

"It's tough competing against a history of fun times at the bowl, bringing in your own food and beverage," said Gian Rafaniello, general manager for service company Sodexo at the bowl.
So when Sodexo took over food services at the venue from Patina Restaurant Group three years ago, it partnered with Los Angeles restaurateurs Suzanne Goin and Caroline Styne and their Lucques Group, whose establishments include Lucques, a.o.c., Tavern and the Larder.

Three years later, the bowl’s food story is “nothing like it was before we got here," Rafaniello said. "We have completely renovated the restaurants, the stands, the menu and the way the guests relate to our offerings."

Persuading patrons to change their preshow habits and buy their concessions at the venue has been a slow process, but Sodexo and Lucques are making progress.

"It's about bringing the guests a dining experience that is better than the one they could have by doing it themselves," executive chef Ivan Petkov said. "We determined early on (that) the way to achieve it was with high-quality offerings that were on a par with the same high-end food that the guests could get if they went out to dinner at one of the restaurants near the bowl. Bringing in Lucques was a bold step in making that a reality."

Together, the two food service providers rebranded the four restaurants that are on the property by bringing in the Lucques brand, nine street carts and the three marketplaces where grab-and-go items can be bought.

In the restaurants, the menu items change seasonally. "We change the entrees regularly to make sure that if a customer came last season they wouldn't see the same dish offered again," Rafaniello said. "We want to make it easy for a guest to choose to dine with us."

"There's a lot of food choices within a short distance of our venue," he said. "It's easy to pick a place to eat off premises and then stroll up for the show."

The plan is working. Per caps are at an all-time high of $12.45, up 10 percent from before the account was taken over by France-based Sodexo, which furthered its reach into the North American market when it bought concessionaire Centerplate in 2017.

The capture rate at the Hollywood Bowl, which is the rate of customers buying concessions at the venue, has shot up to 39 percent, a rate unheard of before the concessionaire swap, Rafaniello said.

Even more impressive: Sales have been up year-over-year for three years straight.
"We must be doing something right," Rafaniello said. "The per caps were stagnant for many, many years before we arrived."

One of the new innovations is preorder picnic baskets. "We sell about 50 of these per show and often reach our 200-basket limit," Petkov said. "They have items in them like grilled chicken, tenderloin, fish and there's even a vegan option. The baskets are a complete meal with a starter, an entree, a dessert. ... We want to make it attractive to just order this instead of putting it all together yourself and bringing it."

Guests can order online or on the phone up to a day before a show. "We call it 'Supper in Your Seat,'” Petkov said.

Express ordering is another innovation. "Guests can order at kiosks spread throughout the venue, pay at the kiosk, and then go pick their order up at a dedicated window," Rafaniello said. "It's a big hit."

The venue, which is owned by Los Angeles County and operated by the Los Angeles Philharmonic Association, is marketing the offerings through radio spots, in-venue digital advertising, social media, push notifications and promotions, he said.

The team also conducts "key surveys about the food and wayfinding regularly to understand what is working and what needs improvement."

"It's a not easy to break people out from a decades-old habit of throwing together some sandwiches and grabbing a bottle of wine and heading out for a night at the bowl or stopping at a place on Hollywood Boulevard before a concert," Petkov said. "But we're making great headway in breaking the pattern and proving to our guests that what they can get here is easier and tastier than that what they did 10 years ago."



  • by Brad Weissberg
  • Published: October 30, 2018