Date: June 21, 2006

Contrary to logical thinking, pre-game tailgating doesn't necessarily mean food and drink per caps inside the facility will be down.

At the RBC Center, Raleigh, N.C., scene of four National Hockey League Stanley Cup final games, tailgaters were invited into a tent right in front of the door and per caps were up 30 percent over regular season game spending, according to Davin Olsen, venue general manager.

Three hours before facility officials opened the doors to hockey fans, the parking lot was full of tailgaters. Management further encouraged the tailgaters by providing a band, barbecue and beer in the tent. Tailgating is a common element to Hurricanes games, but the tent was special for the playoffs, he added.

While the Carolina Hurricanes beat the Edmonton Oilers on the ice for the Cup, facility food operations also produced winning results. The playoffs ran the full seven games. The teams met in Raleigh June 5, 7, 14 and 19. The Hurricanes won the series at home.

“Logic would tell you that this wouldn't happen,” said Olsen of the increased per caps. “We had thousands come out to tailgate. But, we are still doing incredible per caps.”

Food operations ran smoothly for the Stanley Cup playoffs, said Olson, and Michael Bekolay, concessions manager. The games had been sold out at 18,300 fans per game.

Bekolay said management 'took a lot of notes' when the Hurricanes were in the Stanley Cup playoffs four years ago. One of the most difficult and challenging aspects of handling the playoffs was making sure they had enough staff.

“Sometimes it is short notice,” Bekolay said. “Then, we have to deal with our part-timers with spring break, Memorial Day and Mothers Day. It's just the magnitude of the scheduling. Most importantly, however, we did have better notice about when the games would be this time around.”

On top of the list of 'most popular' foods is the facility's barbecue. Bekolay said they installed two barbecue pits last fall, pits that have been kept very busy since. They have sold one load per pit per night. In other words, each pit cooks 700 pounds of barbecue. So, each night of the playoffs, almost 1,500 pounds of barbecue have been consumed.

“Since we installed the pits last fall, we have sold about 55,000 pounds of barbecue,” Bekolay said.

The barbecue is offered under the tent during the tailgating activities, then brought inside. It is offered in sandwiches only and is available at the concession stands and in the suites. Bekolay said they make their own sauce.

“We don't put sauce on the barbecue, however,” Bekolay said. “We let our customers do it from the condiment table. We make two types of sauces. The eastern side of North Carolina uses a vinegar based barbecue sauce. The western side uses vinegar but also uses a lot more tomato. Since we are in Raleigh, in the center of the state, we felt we needed something for both sides of the state. So, we make both kinds.”

The number of outlets on the concourse were augmented to serve the sold-out event. For regular Hurricanes games, there are about 200 points of sale. For the playoffs, that was increased to 250 points of sale. The menu remained the same.

“It just didn't seem like the best time” to add products, Bekolay said. “We ran the same fare we normally do.”

One Stanley Cup-only offer was to have a local company carve a cocktail bar out of a block of ice for each playoff game. The block melted during the event.

Bekolay said they got a good six hours of use with the ice bar. “We wanted something special for our fans,” he said. “Ours wasn't that complicated, however, so it cost us a couple of hundred dollars for each carving.”

The ice bar was eight feet long and two feet deep. There was a place in the middle of the bar to hold the bottles. The rest was smooth.

“People didn't really rest there; they got their drink and left,” he said. The bar sat on a draining box which also contained lighting so the ice was lit from underneath. “It's just fun,” he said.

The Hurricanes hosted a parade and celebration in the parking areas the day after the Hurricanes won the Stanley Cup on June 19 with 30,000 fans. It was all outside so they had to “move our operations outside.”

“We basically didn't go to sleep Monday night,” he said. “But, it's exciting. It's all part of it.”

Interviewed for the story: Michael Bekolay, (919) 861-5427, Dave Olsen, (919) 861-6173