Sunday, March 20, 2011

Red Bull Arena Concessions - Still a Disaster

In a number of the interviews with Red Bulls brass over the off-season - Erik Stover's December appearance on Seeing Red! in particular - the issue of the concessions problems at Red Bull Arena was broached. Stover was at pains to ensure fans that this was one major area where the organization realized that it needed to improve for 2011. So it was only reasonable to expect that when the gates to Red Bull Arena opened on Saturday we would see improvements in staff training, speed of delivery and traffic flow along the concourses, right?

Well... not quite. Anyone hoping for last year's ugly duckling to miraculously transform into a swan was in for a nasty surprise last night. Not only was service as slow as ever, but beer taps did not function properly, the new "members only" lines were not well-marked and did not move as briskly as promised, staff were still unable and/or unwilling to accept member cards for purchases at registers, no warm beverages were available on a freezing cold evening, and issues were even reported at the Corner Pub.

After waiting in line ten minutes before kickoff for a hot dog and a beer, I was forced to downgrade to hot dog only when the taps stopped working behind 132. My friend Patrick walked by and was both amused and pleased to report that he had been unable to use his member card at the international beer area under the west stand. He ended up getting his beer for free as a result. That's nice for him of course, but is it really the way things should be running?

Turning my attention to the Heineken stand directly across the other side of the concourse, I got in line, reassured by the sign next to the register that read, "Use your member card here." Of course by the time I got to the front of the line five minutes later and inquired about using my card I was told that I could not use my card until the cashier's manager arrived. Short on cash, I settled for a small and took my seat. Red Bull was out $4. Ho hum.

When I asked for people's experiences with RBA concessions on my Twitter feed this afternoon, here is just a sample of what I got back (names kept private):

  • "I waited for ten minutes for a members only line to open, and then when they finally opened it, all I wanted was coffee and hot chocolate and they didn't have any. Then, at halftime, I waited 25 minutes for chorizo and when I finally got to the front of the line, I whip out my members card and the cashier says 'I'm so sorry I'm cash only right now.'"
  • "I asked the lady at the concession for two medium beers but charged me for two large beers. When I pointed it out to her she didn't know how to change it medium at the register and said she had to call a manager. I didn't want the people behind me waiting any longer since the line had already been moving at a slow pace so I just said fuck it and paid her. I'm annoyed that they're not better prepared."
  • "At halftime, the cashier asked a supervisor how to enter a Snapple purchase because there is no button for it on the machine."
Then there is this magnum opus from one reader:
  • 1) Loaded $25 onto my wife's card before the game, but when she hit concessions the reader said $0.  Clearly she wasn't the only one with this problem, but..
  • 2) Card reader at the beer cooler concession stand behind 125 was "not working" even though the screen was on and looked functional.  Paid cash, didn't get a receipt, didn't get told I should submit a receipt for loyalty points.
  • 3) I think I saw one "Member's Only Concessions" line that was actually open.
  • 4) The lines for all the various concession stands weren't wrangled very well, making getting around difficult.  The lap I was trying to do to warm back up during halftime was nearly impossible.
  • 5) Wife did make it into the Bull's Corner Pub during halftime, but after sitting for 10 minutes and no one serving her, she got up and left.

You get the idea. This is just a small sampling of what I received. The fact of the matter is that by any objective measurement the concessions were not run more smoothly on Saturday and may even have been appreciably worse. Where the fault lies is anyone's guess. Many of the issues (i.e. unfamiliarity of staff with card purchase procedures) are things that you assume could be ironed out with an hour or two of training. Other items - flow along the concourses, for example - might be solved with better planning. Delaware North is responsible for concessions at RBA. Maybe it's time for Stover to have a real heart to heart with them and lay down some markers for improvement. If they can't meet them, then maybe they should find another food service partner.

In so many respects, Red Bull Arena is a wonderful place to enjoy the Beautiful Game. Sightlines are awesome, the sound is contained, the arena itself is beautiful to look at - both inside and outside. But the failure to effectively manage the food service operations takes it down a peg as a fan experience, which is a shame. We can only hope things improve as the season goes along, but I won't be holding my breath.
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