Chefs from various locations where Delaware North Companies Sportservice operates, including from several other Major League Baseball accounts, bolstered the food and beverage operation for the World Series at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, Texas. Another group of the company's chefs has done the same in St. Louis.
Update: This story was modified Nov. 2.
Delaware North Companies' Sportservice is pulling a double-header this October with both of its stadiums — Busch Stadium in St. Louis and Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, Texas — hosting games in the World Series. The St. Louis Cardinals won the World Series in the seventh game at Busch Stadium. Venues Today spoke with Richard Dobransky about how the company is handling providing concessions for not only Major League Baseball’s World Series, but also all four teams in the NLCS and ALCS.
You last served both World Series teams in 2006 when the Cardinals played the Tigers; how has this experience compared?
This was different only because going into it we had four teams in the divisional series, and then our four teams actually made it into the championship series. So as soon as it was clinched for St. Louis and Texas, all of a sudden we had the American League and National League Champions. That’s never happened with Sportservice. It’s been a great October. And you can cap that off with the Boston Bruins, which our company owns, who went to the Stanley Cup. It’s been a great, busy year for Sportservice. I was just telling someone, I haven’t been actually at my office since Oct. 3, we’ve been so busy.
Was providing the concessions for all four teams in the ALCS and NLCS busier than the World Series, or does the World Series, being such a high-profile event, put it on a different level?
Well the four was definitely busier because you had pretty much a game — if not two games — a day, so it was a bit different as far as how we spread our resources. We have 10 MLB teams, in addition to all of our other sporting venues, so out of the six teams that weren’t in the playoffs, they were able to go to our other operations and help out. What it really comes down to is that you can only get so busy. The thing with the World Series that’s different is that we do a lot of pre- and post-game parties for media or other groups. So, on average, we’re serving about an additional 2,500-3,500 guests in other functions each night.
What company chefs and executives are you going to bring in for extra support?
We bring in a group of regional chefs. For an evening like tonight, we have the staff that works regularly in St. Louis. We’re also able to support it locally because we do the food service over at the Edward Jones Dome, the home of the Rams. We have chefs in here from Progressive Field in Cleveland and we have the whole Texas team here. But since they had the World Series experience the last three games, we just brought them up here to see the end of it and work. And we have chefs from as far away as MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., and from Minnesota Twins operations. It’s really all hands on deck.
How do you change your normal operations for the World Series?
Everything’s on high alert. We add a lot more portable carts, and a lot more beer and soda vendors. Some of our stadiums were able to do some stuff outside of the gates. Here in St. Louis there has been a big push on retail operations.
Bacon-wrapped BBQ hot dog
How do F&B per caps for World Series Games relate to those for regular season matches?
People arrive much earlier and usually stay until the end of the game. Whether we have a two-hour gate or a three-hour gate, people are here for a long time. Tonight we open our gates at 5 o’clock and by 5:30 p.m. we’ll be pretty much at capacity, but in a normal game people usually straggle in even after the game has started. With that we have a capture rate of six or seven hours. In fact, I think it was the first game down in Texas at Rangers Stadium when the Cardinals had a hitting-fest. That was over a four-hour game, plus we had three-hour gates, so we had all of the fans there for seven hours. Clearly your per cap is pretty darn high with that. I think we were above $30 per cap for that night. When you get to the point where people are there so long, it’s sort of the two-meal thing. People will get there and have a couple of beers and the obligatory hot dog, and then in a few hours people will go back for at least another snack, if not a whole meal. So the game going so long really worked out for us.
What’s the average per caps for World Series games?
In the upper range of the $28-$32 is pretty consistent for World Series or really any big event.
What does this mean for Sportservice in terms of exposure and revenues?
Our October, combined with a great June with the Bruins, really helped us. I think this is a record year for postponements due to weather, so we had a very slow beginning of the year. We didn’t come out of the gates great in April and into the first couple weeks of May. So if anything, being with the four teams starting in the divisional series to the championship series and now the World Series has pretty much wiped out all of the bad weather we had at the beginning of the year. We can write off 2011 as being a very successful baseball year.
What sort of healthy options do you offer?
We’ve ventured into a lot of retail food packaging, which gives us the opportunity to do more healthy items. We have added everything from gluten-free beer to gluten-free hot dogs and all of that stuff. We’re able to do it a lot easier in our premium areas because they order that in advance. We have carrot sticks with ranch dressing which the kids seem to eat up more than the parents.
What percentage of sales do the healthy options make up?
It’s very minor. What happens is — especially when you get to events at this level — people come out and are here for a celebration, and what tends to happen when people are in a celebratory mood is that people are going to eat more. They’re going to have that extra hot dog because their team made it to the World Series. You do a lot better with healthy foods during the regular season because you have more of that season ticket base that comes consistently to every game.
You’re offering many more made-to-order options; how has that affected the timeliness in which people are served?
In most stadiums it really doesn’t. It’s the same steps that we’re taking to get the food to the customer, it’s just done in front of the guest. Even for sports where time is of the essence like football, we do everything at MetLife Stadium right in front of the guest. It really hasn’t caused a lot of delay.
How did you get involved with Food Network? They created two of the sandwiches you offer.
We’re teaming up with Food Network to create a Food Network Kitchen restaurant in our airports. And that didn’t materialize very quickly but, in the meantime, Rick Abramson, our president, said that if we’re dealing with the Food Network, we should get them into sports. So we were able to get them into the MLB season last year with a rotating menu in our suites. We tested the products in our kitchens instead of theirs to see what would hold, how long it would sit in the hot box, what the transport is up the elevators. I have to say Food Network certainly learned a lot about cooking food that wasn’t going to just go under a camera, and we learned a lot about merchandising and media and their standards. It’s been a great partnership from that perspective. In MLB we rolled out a national steak sandwich called the Red, White and Bleu, with blue cheese, and then worked to create regional steak sandwiches with the Food Network to match every ballpark. At any given time during the game, the stand is 10-15 deep. And we also matched a unique beer with the steak sandwiches on the menus, so it’s been a fun project.
The Sausage Sundae features a scoop of garlic mashed potatoes, beef brisket, and mac and cheese, topped with a red pepper.
How are the regional items, like the Alligator Po’Boy, received?
They go over pretty well. It’s unique. We have one where you take a corn cob, and cut the corn off of the cob fresh, and then give a variety of different toppings to stir in. You see people walking around with items like the half-pound hot dog that we had in Texas topped with beans and coleslaw and then had the state flag of Texas stuck in the center. Both ballparks have a Sausage Sundae. I’ve tasted it, but in order to maintain any type of weight you can only have a couple of bites of it. And here in St. Louis, fans go crazy over nachos. We serve them in upside-down baseball helmets. I don’t know how many we sell each game, but we’re very busy.
What’s your favorite dish?
For baseball, I like a bratwurst. It’s very reminiscent of the ballpark experience.
Sportservice serves 10 teams in MLB, are you looking for more?
Absolutely. Just by having the 10 it helped us to stack the deck to get into the World Series. It would be nice to have 15 or 16. I think we’d probably get sued for monopoly if we said we wanted all of them, but we could double the number we do now. We’ve been with MLB since 1930 in Detroit.
Does hosting high-profile events like the World Series help you get clients? When do those talks start?
It gets you more exposure. At World Series events you definitely have owners of other teams and people from other venues who attend. We have a new business development group. And if we see the owner of another team here tonight, Rick Abramson will certainly make sure he steps into their suite to check on the food and start the conversation. We’re hoping for a game seven. We’re this far into it, and one more night would be the absolute roasted red pepper on the Sausage Sundae.
Contact: Richard Dobransky, (716) 858-5753