So, before the Swansea home game on 4 March, Katrina Law and Kevin Fitzgerald of THST met with Terry Buxton, Retail Catering Manager at Centerplate, to discuss the concourse catering at WHL. THFC’s Supporter Liaison Officer, Jonathan Waite, also came along to talk burgers, beer and beigels (or is it bagels?).
Q: There aren’t enough staff or tills open at each outlet during half time normally. Why?
· Numbers are restricted by the space available in each of the catering stands, which was acknowledged as being tight. As many tills as possible are open at all times.
· It was flagged that staff should be more familiar with the menus and generally quicker and more alert when serving customers.
· Staff retention was an issue and staff are trained on appointment – but the turnover is, perhaps not unsurprisingly, high.
· Centerplate is looking at ways to address this including possible staff sharing with other clubs.
Q: Alcohol only service points or beers carts would be a good idea. Can we have those?
· Free standing beer units/ beer carts are signed off by the Council and that’s definitely something that’s being pursued as it is recognised the queues at the main outlets would be reduced were beer available from carts.
· This needs to be looked at on a game day, however, to fully assess health and safety and ensure no fire exits or gangways are being compromised by the free standing beer units. Leicester at home is the first opportunity for these assessments.
· Conversely, soft drink and food points only were discussed. As the revenue is higher from alcohol sales, the appetite for dedicated soft drinks only stands wasn’t really there. However, should the beer units get council approval, that’s something Centerplate would consider.
Q: Why aren’t more drinks pre poured before half time at Category C games?
· At Cat C games, all drinks must be pre poured on advice of the Safety Advisory Group. The Centerplate staff do pour as many as possible before half time but there is generally limited space to store the poured drinks and some fans then ask for freshly poured rather than beer that’s been sat on the side for 10 minutes. Wastage needs to be considered, too.
Q: It takes ages to pay for my food and drink. Could this be sped up?
· Taking payment is the main factor in slowing down the purchase process so we touched on methods to make that quicker.
· Introducing contactless card payment would seem the obvious way forward, however, that is a big investment in a new system when, in all likelihood, we won’t be playing at WHL in two years’ time.
· There is also a power issue at WHL on match days, with all available power being used currently.
· Moving to a contactless system in WHL would be the decision of the stadium manager, not Centerplate.
· We’re assured contactless payment will be available in the new stadium but, for now, it’s not viable in WHL.
· Other options are a pre pay system whereby ‘tokens’ are purchased upon entering the stadium and redeemed at half time. The issue here would be devising a chip or a disc that couldn’t easily be forged. Centerplate are investigating options at present.
· Similarly, the possibility of purchasing a voucher book in advance of matches was tabled.
Q: How do you decide what food is available in each stand?
· Centerplate explained that the choice of food was different in each stand as the facilities were different. For example, there is nowhere to cook burgers in the East Stand so the only option would be to boil them. Hence, burgers are not available in the Shelf.
· Fan feedback had suggested that beigels would be welcomed in every stand and as they required no ovens/cooking. Centerplate agreed to stock beigels in each concourse from the Leicester game onwards.
· Kiosks stocking beigels in the lower stands are now N3/E2/S1/W1/W2. Kiosks on the upper stands are N5/N6/EBAGEL 8/9/S6/W3/W4/W5.
· The absence of a normal chocolate bar was also raised (replaced by the bags of Munchies etc.) Centerplate agreed to reintroduce KitKats for the Leicester game, which has now been done.
· The quality of the Chicken Balti pies was discussed. The recipe is now a Centerplate one but it was fed back (no pun intended) that those on sale prior to the Centerplate contract had been far tastier. This will be reported back to the chefs.
· The general dislike of Carlsberg was flagged, however, this is contractual and, as such, stays. The details of this contract also mean it’s not possible to offer an alternative lager. Similarly with the cider options. There isn’t room to offer alternatives within existing contracts.
· Regarding wine, Centerplate agreed to check what other brands are available in small plastic bottles as Echo Falls has received poor feedback. It was thought there may be a Blossom Hill option. Any change would be made at the end of the season, however.
· Vegetarian options were felt to be very limited with a cheese and onion pasty and a Bombay vegetable pie only at present. Centerplate monitored how many vegetarian options were sold and wanted to gauge the demand here. It was felt there should be more Bombay veg pies available but there are no plans to expand the veggie options at this stage.
· Water – tap water is available freely to all match goers. Just request at the counter. It is certified as being fit for drinking.
· Several fans had mentioned wanting a healthier option in terms of the food available. Again, the facilities make this difficult. Be that the ovens/cooking equipment or the shelf/sale space. Beigels are probably the closest to that at this stage.
Q: Why is there often not enough hot food available?
· Gauging the quantity of food required at each match was difficult. The theory that a lunch time kick off requires more food was disproved when Centerplate had the biggest amount of wastage at the recent West Ham game.
· There is a system in place for requesting more of specific types of food when stocks are running low but this is something we’d like Centerplate to address. At the Swansea match, all hot food had run out mid-way through half time in the East Stand, for example. Centerplate agreed to keep monitoring this.
Q: The signage is confusing (and there are typos!)
· Several fans had commented on the point of sale promotion around ‘Meal’ deals, when the individual items totalled the same as the Meal. Centerplate explained these weren’t called ‘Meal Deals’, just ‘Meals’ but nonetheless accepted the signage was open to misinterpretation and agreed to look at removing this from kiosks at the end of this season.
· Centerplate also agreed to correct the typo on signage in the Away end, where ‘alcohol’ is currently advertised as ‘alcohoe’. This was a source of much amusement to visiting fans – with this particular error being pointed out to us by an Arsenal supporter! We understand this has now been corrected.
Q: Could technology or equipment upgrades help improve the customer experience?
· Several suggestions were made to improve the service and experience at the catering outlets. These included Multi pint pouring machines, as per the Millennium Stadium. Again, with a stadium move on the cards, it’s unlikely this level of investment will be made to the current offering. It’s about making the most out of what we’ve got.
THST offered to include a catering section in our end of season survey and to work with Centerplate to devise those questions. Centerplate encouraged more input from fans moving forward.
20 March 2015