This stand in Cleveland is flipping from chicken bowls to cocktails in the second quarter of NBA playoff games. (Courtesy Aramark)
Aramark is flipping out at Quicken Loans Arena, but in a good way. For the NBA playoffs, the Cleveland Cavaliers’ food provider is converting a concession stand’s fare midgame from chicken bowls to cocktails.
The second-quarter “flip” is a product of food vendors become more flexible in adapting to customer buying habits at sports events. It is thought to be one of the first times a concessionaire has switched a food stand’s offerings in the middle of event.
“It’s a great idea,” food consultant Chris Bigelow said.
In Cleveland, the in-game conversion is part of Launch Test Kitchen, a program Aramark started in 2015 to showcase local chefs and test new food concepts. The test kitchen is also in place at Capital One Arena in Washington, D.C., and Rogers Centre in Toronto, but for now the in-game flip is restricted to the Q, Aramark spokesman David Freireich said.
The flip is driven by sales data tied to tipoff times for the playoffs, said Kevin Kearney, the firm’s district manager. After advancing through the first round with 7 p.m. ET tipoffs against the Pacers, the Cavaliers were faced with 8:30 p.m. starts for their second-round series against the Raptors. After Aramark officials saw a shift toward higher sales of beer and mixed drinks for Game 1 of the second round, they converted the stand for Game 2 from Bowl’ology to Cle|Cocktail toward the end of the second quarter.
The stand, situated midcourt on the main concourse by Section 126, attracts heavy volume and foot traffic, Kearney said.
“The beauty of the platform is that it’s digital based,” he said. “We pulled the trigger a minute or two into the second quarter and it took about 10 minutes to make the full physical conversion. We traded out some equipment and flipped over the [signs]. We were able to grab the halftime business and saw a nice lift in revenue.”
As the Cavs-Celtics series moves to Cleveland later this week, Aramark plans to convert the stand again for Games 3 and 4, which are set for 8:30 p.m. Saturday and Monday.
“Launch Test Kitchen has always been in the top three in average check spend at the arena, and we’re anxious to see how it does in the next few games to see if we can continue the positive trend,” Kearney said.
The stand itself featured multiple concepts over the regular season, with signature items prepared by local chefs such as Fabio Salerno, Tiwanna Scott-Williams, Eric Roman and Frederick Parks. For rock concerts, the stand often flips to adult beverages for the entire show.
“Over three years, we’ve had 12 different chefs featured at that stand,” Kearney said. “At the same time, we’ve done themed menus around special events and tailgate activations for arena football. We have a lot of fun and take advantage of the platform to do certain things.”
The in-game flip has been something Carl Mittleman, president of Aramark Sports and Entertainment, has talked about doing over the past few years.
“Carl’s always been interested and intrigued by this transformation concept, the ability to morph and do different things for different events,” Kearney said. “We had a significant opportunity to see if we could do it effectively and efficiently without looking sloppy during the course of regular operating hours. From that standpoint, it went really well.”
As the Cavaliers prepare to start construction on a $140 million arena renovation, Aramark could potentially expand the concept, depending on location and menu items, Kearney said.
“It’s important to be open-minded and creative and evolve with the business as it shifts,” he said. “We’re at the point now where we’re getting more refined with analytics and trying to bring the best programs to the forefront in the venues. It’s a big part of what Launch Test Kitchen is about.”