For most football fans, game days mean turning on the living room TV and preparing a heaping platter of chips and buffalo dip. But those watching from an NFL stadium, especially those in the superior seats, may crave superior food service, too.
Fans at stadiums get the full experience of seeing the action live – unless they get hungry, of course. In that case, they often find themselves stuck in line to order food, anxiously hoping they can return to their seats without missing anything big. If luck isn’t with them, though, they’ll be listening to other fans’ cheers and guessing about what just happened.
That’s the kind of problem the Detroit Lions organization is tackling. In the process of making major physical renovations to its Ford Field stadium, the company also deployed digital and physical upgrades to kick its dining game up a notch. The $100 million project included creating a new Gridiron Club premium seating area on the north side, installing a 4,000-square-foot kitchen and trialing mobile-order ahead food services, as well as access to four local restaurants.
The organization experimented with mobile order offerings during the last two games of the 2017 season, a test run intended to put the stadium’s food and beverage services into a new league – and to use the convenience of the offering to sell the premium seating area, exclusively for Gridiron Club fans. When fan feedback on the trial rolled in, it appeared the order-ahead strategy had scored points.
In a recent interview with PYMNTS, Todd Marcy, director of digital operations for the Detroit Lions, and Ben Manges, the organization’s senior director of corporate communications and new media, explained the positive customer response, what the group learned from its mobile-order ahead experiment, why it trialed adding the service to its playbook and how it designed order-ahead for a stadium club environment.
Handling Halftime Hunger
Venues that add digital ordering services to their menus soon learn they must play physical catch up. QSRs like Starbucks have seen mobile ordering produce chaos, with flocks of customers piling in and clamoring to claim orders. That kind of headache spurred Dunkin’ Donuts to build a whole new brick-and-mortar concept to facilitate mobile order pick-up.
The Lions are following Dunkin’s playbook strategy, and the stadium renovation presented an opportunity to build a layout that would be better suited for order-ahead options.
According to Marcy and Manges, the app’s highest customer ordering traffic occurred shortly before halftime. To avoid jams, the group built designated pickup counters near each of the four participating venues’ cash registers, making it easier for customers to claim their items.
“We did have a large amount of people coming right before halftime to pick up their food,” Marcy said. “[But] we have a large enough space at each restaurant where that [could] be fulfilled without a problem.”
While some in the order-ahead space are concerned that customers may accidentally claim the wrong order, or that a bad actor might steal a paying customer’s items, Marcy said this did not present a major issue during the trial. Customers had to show an order verification on their phones to pick up their orders, which helped to prevent mix-ups and mobile order- ahead scofflaws.
Another approach to easing traffic is to have food delivered to customers’ seats instead, but Marcy said there is no plan to provide a delivery option at this time. That decision was made after consulting with other organizations on their experiences providing such a service, finding it’s a heavy operational undertaking that would be complicated for servers to maneuver. Marcy and Manges also did not believe there was high fan demand for delivery.
With customers required to pick up orders, the mobile app leverages way-finding features to help them navigate the stadium. App orders were usually ready for fans to pick up within 10 minutes of placing them, Marcy said.
Mobile Order-Ahead as Advertising
After investing in the new north side Gridiron Club, the organization wanted to encourage fans to join and engage with its new premium offerings. Hoping fans would discover the options on their own was as risky as a Hail Mary pass, however.
Manges said the group hoped the skip-the-line convenience of order-ahead would attract more club seating purchasers and encourage their repeat business.
“We were looking for opportunities to differentiate and attract new customers, and provide amenities to existing customers looking for an extra incentive to stay,” he said.
The organization needed to let fans know that the stadium’s south side club was not the only superior seating. Mobile ordering features were intended to help get the word out that the Gridiron Club was available, too – and that it had a lot to offer.
“We knew we would need to do something to differentiate that [north side club] area from the south side, which had been our primary premium area for the first 15 years of Ford Field,” Manges explained.
The service also to increase the discoverability of the new food options serving the club, Marcy added. During the mobile-order ahead trial, the organization informed fans of the service via flyers distributed across Gridiron Club seats which, in turn, led them to check out the new restaurants via the app.
The organization also partnered with food provider Levy Restaurants, which operates all the in-stadium venues, to provide fans with added convenience. Through the collaboration, fans could purchase from any combination of the four participating stadium restaurants in a single order – and all with just one credit card payment.
“You can order from multiple restaurants, or just one, or an item from all four if you wanted,” Marcy said. “Those items will be placed at those restaurants and you can pay in one transaction.”
Under the trialed service, customers could pay for order-ahead via credit card and could cancel an order within three to five minutes of placing it. Those cancelling orders received a credit card refund within 48 hours.
The app has only been tested by a small sample thus far. Of the approximately 3,000 fans the club can accommodate, just 15 percent viewed the app. There is even less data to examine in terms of usage, as only 5 percent of those who checked it out used it to order during the trial.
According to Marcy and Manges, it’s too early to say whether the availability of mobile order-ahead services prompted more customers to make purchases or to purchase more items. Manges believes the service was able to offer smoother experiences for those who would have ordered anyway, though.
The Detroit Lions organization has not yet decided if it will continue to offer mobile order-ahead or expand access to the rest of the stadium, but Marcy said responses from those who used it were positive.
“They were happy with the functionality of the interface, how easy it was to get through it [and] the fact they could order from multiple restaurants,” he said. “Fans were pleasantly surprised [that mobile order-ahead] was an option.”
While it remains to be seen if the offerings will be permanently added to the roster, based on early results, the mobile order-ahead experiment appears to have added to the Detroit Lions’ pride.