Walk Thru Bru with Mashgin Express Self-Checkout, Aramark
Developed by Alicia Woznicki, Aramark vice president of design and development
Photo: Courtesy Aramark

Breaking the bar code with artificial intelligence

Artificial intelligence is gaining momentum in sports concessions. Aramark has the technology in place at about 20 big league stadiums, and the feedback has been positive among fans demanding faster transactions so they can return to their seats and watch the game, company officials said.

Mashgin, the company that Aramark partnered with to capitalize on the technology, produces a self-serve system with multiple cameras that uses artificial intelligence to quickly scan prices of food and drink items without barcodes and accept payment with credit and debit cards.

Aramark has installed Mashgin units at seven NFL venues for the 2019 season after first testing it about 16 months ago in Major League Baseball. In Denver, it plays a key role for Aramark as the firm takes over food service at Empower Field at Mile High, home of the Denver Broncos.

The system is set up at Drink Mkt, a walk-through beverage location, and Favs @ Mile High, a concession stand that sells hot dogs, pizza, nachos, soda and beer, said Carl Mittleman, president of Aramark Sports & Entertainment.

More than 5,000 transactions were handled through artificial intelligence for the Broncos’ Sept. 15 regular-season home opener against Chicago. All told, there were 17 locations tied to the technology at Empower Field, producing twice the number of transactions per point-of-sale compared with a typical concession stand.

“There were very few hiccups, if any,” Mittleman said. “There was a lot of integration work we had to do with the Broncos’ loyalty program, and with Apple Pay. It all worked very seamlessly.”

Speed of service is the primary driver for integrating artificial intelligence into self-serve systems. The technology also helps in a challenging labor market in which vendors struggle to secure enough manpower for part-time concessions staff, Mittleman said.

The Mashgin system enables Aramark’s on-site general managers to position staff in more of a support role, which includes greeting fans and helping them find what they’re looking for, checking IDs for purchasing alcohol and resolving potential payment issues with the system, he said.

For Aramark, additional technology may eliminate the need for staff to verify that a customer is of legal age to buy beer, wine and hard liquor. On Sept. 23, the concessionaire announced it has teamed with Clear, which uses fingerprint technology as a secure mode of identification, to further expedite transactions at Citi Field, home of the New York Mets.

Clear works in tandem with Mashgin at the ballpark’s Walk Thru Bru express stand situated behind Section 130. Fans buying alcohol at the location who are registered with Clear can place their finger on a reader that verifies their age and charges their credit card on file before completing the transaction.

In Seattle, the Mariners and Seahawks have been using Clear technology for concessions. 

Aramark says it’s the first concessionaire to pilot a fully automated experience between the two systems. At Citi Field, the first step is to test and evaluate Clear before determining whether Aramark can expand the technology to venues where Mashgin is installed, company spokesman David Freireich said.  

For Mashgin alone, Aramark pays a few thousand dollars per unit, more than for a traditional point-of-sale terminal, Mittleman said. But as with every new technology, the upfront expense is higher compared with the cost to scale it across multiple venues.

“It’s more expensive today than it will be a year or two from now,” Mittleman said. 

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