What QSRs Can Learn From Stadium Concessions

Are you ready for some football? Not until you’ve got snacks and a beer in hand — a process that will cost you both a lot of money and time at any given sports stadium.

The prices are what they are, but if stadiums follow the lead of QSRs, Bypass Mobile CIO Geoff Johnson believes that they could save guests a lot of time waiting in line, and also lock in sales with customers who would otherwise take one look at that long line and forget about buying food.

“Stadiums can learn from QSRs,” said Johnson. “Successful QSRs have good processes in place for how to execute orders, and stadiums have lagged on that.”

Part of the issue is technology, or the lack thereof, Johnson said. Whereas most QSRs have moved to digital kitchen display systems, stadium concession stands are still using paper, which takes longer, gets lost, and invites order inaccuracy. Another part of the problem is suboptimal flow structures. Improve the kitchen flow and workflow, and efficiency will follow, Johnson said.

Johnson’s insight comes from the experiences he and his team at Bypass Mobile have had getting those high pressure, high volume venues commerce-ready. In an interview with PYMNTS' Karen Webster, Johnson explained what stadiums need to learn if they want to flourish in the quickest of quick-service settings, where tens of thousands of customers are clamoring for food and drink within the same three-hour window.

Cashier Optimization

That’s also not code for replacing all the employees with robots. Johnson believes there are steps that managers of quick-serve concession stands can take to do better with the tools they have.

“The speed at which a cashier can ring in an order is a combination of two things,” said Johnson: “Simplicity of interface and training.”

Doing simple things, such as optimizing the size and layout of buttons on cash registers, a business can move traffic more smoothly by eliminating cashier confusion over navigation.

To the same end, the right training can prepare employees to work quickly and smoothly under pressure, Johnson said. He believes in a “train the trainer” model, which teaches key leaders in the workplace to teach others around them.

That person could be a manager, or it could be a cashier who is more advanced than his or her peers — someone management has identified as having leadership potential. That way, managers aren’t spending billable hours training every new hire, and there’s a person on hand to help less-experienced cashiers when things get hectic — and in settings like this, there are always less-experienced cashiers because the churn rate is very high.

“A manual doesn’t help when it’s halftime and people are screaming at you and you need to fulfill those orders quickly,” Johnson said.

Technology Upgrades

There’s no point in rapidly processing a high volume of EMV chip card transactions unless the process is also secure. Older point of sale (POS) systems used unencrypted reading technology and opened up merchants to risk because they were unable to do stored EMV transactions offline.

Something Bypass does, and which Johnson thinks every stadium’s quick-service POS should do, is taking the transaction all the way through in a secure manner, even if the system has gone offline. The payment is held securely on the device until the network comes back online.

In terms of back-of-house efficiency, newer technology can help track stock in real time to avoid stock-outs, said Johnson. Analysis of the sales velocity for each concession stand can be used to predict when things are likely to run out and restock before it happens. Even today, said Johnson, that process is largely manual, but it has the potential to become automated and is already on its way there.

Ordering Options

Instead of asking every customer to wait in line, stadiums could also introduce alternative methods of ordering concessions.

It’s about more than just making hawkers digital; Johnson said there’s little room for gain there, since a person can only carry so much inventory, and processing credit card payments as a roving merchant presents significant challenges of efficiency.

Rather, Johnson said there’s major potential for mobile order-ahead technology to find a niche in stadium sports, something he said a few places have even implemented or are piloting. In the same way that customers can place their coffee order ahead of time and then go pick it up at the Starbucks counter, sports fans could order a hot dog from their seat and then go pick it up from the stand, using a unique QR code generated with the order to demonstrate proof of purchase.

However, mobile order ahead will have to clear some tough hurdles in the sports arena. It works for QSRs because they see a lot of repeat customers. Unless a football fan has a season pass, the stadium is not going to see the same level of repeat business. Considering that many fans only attend one game a year, what are the odds that they will want to get an app just so they can order food from their seat during that one event?

It’s asking a lot for a fan to discover the app, download it, register, input credit card information and place the order. And getting them to understand how and where to retrieve the order can be a whole other battle, said Johnson. If the pathway isn’t clear, concession stands will start to see disorderly queues of order-ahead customers, and that line will be off-putting to walk-up guests.

Johnson suggests that a bundled solution could be a stadium’s best bet. That way, fans could download and access their ticket as well as order concessions from the same mobile app.

Or, stadiums could skip the mobile order ahead element altogether and simply introduce concession kiosks. Where there were previously two cashiers taking orders, five kiosks could process two to three times as many orders and free up employees to focus on getting those orders ready.



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