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  • Shauna Rush


Like every industry, the coronavirus pandemic has completely shaken up the business model of many professional sports. Therefore, teams are having to adopt a new "normal" when inviting fans back into stadiums and arenas.

One of the main area's teams are having to rethink is the food and drink services.

Restaurants have been setting the precedent, as they experiment with ways to keep order volumes up while indoor dining remains limited across the U.S. Through this experimentation, several trends have emerged, including the increased availability of contactless payment options, the prevalence of digital and mobile ordering solutions, and the widespread use of QR codes.

It is estimated that COVID-19 has accelerated up to five years worth these technological adoptions into just six months. As consumers get used to the convenience of these technologies, they are quickly becoming the standard that will remain in place long after social distancing rules are relaxed.

Therefore, there are four areas that every organization, stadium, and area should be focusing on if they want to keep pace with the current technology landscape.


Accept Contactless Payment—and Consider Going Cashless


In response to social distancing requirements and consumer preference for not using cash, many businesses have deployed contactless payment options as a way to provide customers with touch-free alternatives. As customers become more used to using these payment options, they expect more and more businesses to offer them.

For venues, contactless payment options can shave significant time off of transactions—as much as 50% versus cash. This means shorter wait times at concessions and a better fan experience, and that more orders can be processed in between innings and quarters. Some stadiums are already taking the next step and going completely “cashless,” a concept that eliminates costs and complexities associated with handling cash and provides more data on guests’ spending habits. 

LSU athletics, for example, integrated cashless operations designed to minimize points of contact and create a safe environment for fans. Returning fans can purchase concessions and merchandise using major credit cards, Apple Pay, and Android Pay—and LSU is also working toward a prepaid card purchase option. 


Provide Mobile Ordering for Fans


Mobile ordering is rapidly gaining popularity. Restaurants across the U.S. have been adding solutions from third-party delivery apps to their own online and mobile ordering options. Consumers are also becoming used to scanning QR codes to access menus, make payments, or even to access full mobile ordering sites while on-premise for self-service ordering using their own devices.

For venues, mobile ordering offers several advantages. Fans can place orders without missing any of the action or leaving their seats. This reduces congestion at concession and concourse areas, and it also increases the total volume of orders. Venues can offer in-seat delivery options to serve fans, even in strict social distancing scenarios. Order sizes through self-service options like mobile ordering are also around 20% larger than orders placed at traditional concessions. All of these factors mean higher volumes and more money for operators, and a better experience for fans.  

There’s been a significant rise in mobile orders, and stadiums across the country are adapting. Dodger Stadium, for one, recently unveiled a $100 million transformation that includes pre-ordering stadium food via Postmates.


Improve Customer (and Staff) Communication


One of the best ways to improve the fan experience is to communicate with customers and keep them up-to-date on the status of their orders. It is also important for staff to have a clear view of all orders and how they were placed for effective order management. With so many ways to order, how can you easily keep fans and staff informed? 

There are three pieces of technologies that are essential to making the complex more simple.

SMS Text Alerts: When fans order via mobile phones for pick up at concessions, you want to make sure they know the status of their order so that they don’t waste time or cause any unnecessary congestion. The easiest way to do this is with SMS text alerts. This is automated, so customers are kept informed as their order progresses. Your staff doesn’t need to take any additional steps.

Order Status Boards: These screens show what orders are ready for pick up and what orders are on deck. They are useful at pick-up locations and in concourse areas to provide customers with order status information and to reduce congestion.

Kitchen Display System: The KDS, the hub of the order management system, allows staff to manage all orders— whether placed in-person or via a mobile device—in one place. As staff moves orders through the fulfillment process via the KDS, customers are automatically kept up-to-date via SMS text alerts and Order Status Boards. 

Venues should look at these technologies to improve customer communications and to provide a better fan experience. Fans will be grateful if you make the effort to keep them informed, and they will reward you with higher satisfaction ratings and more business.


Upgrade Your Commerce Platform


Technology should be an enabler, not an obstacle. The technology that you use to run your food, beverage and retail needs to be able to move with you and your business needs. To do this, there are several key factors.

First, your platform should support both your physical commerce channels (concessions, bars, restaurants, team stores) and your digital commerce channels (mobile and online ordering). By supporting all channels, you won’t need to worry about having to set up separate systems, complex integrations, or any difficulties in making changes across systems to things like menus, pricing and promotions. You will also be able to introduce new sales channels and to experiment with new concepts quickly and easily.

Next, your platform should be flexible enough to easily change with your business. In addition to adding digital ordering options, your physical point-of-sale devices should be flexible and able to move from location to location as demand and needs shift. They should also be capable of being easily switched between software modes so they can be used at concessions, premium dining establishments, suites, or merchandise stores, or even used at different events. Making these changes should be simple and shouldn’t require downtime or support.

Finally, your commerce platform needs to provide you with the intelligence you need to manage your business. As you experiment with different ordering and payment options, it’s important to know what’s working. To do so, you need data to be centralized and accessible. The right platform will provide you with the reporting and analytics you need to make informed business decisions and increase your bottom line.

These are the four things that every facility should be doing to adapt to today’s technology landscape. There will always be new challenges, but if you have the right technology in place to quickly adapt to changing conditions, you’ll be able to meet consumer demands. That’s always a win-win for stadiums and for fans. 


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