Attending Cubs games at Wrigley Field as a kid, I still remember my dad getting frustrated by the fellow spectators blocking our view. “Get up at the end of the inning!” or “Wait until the end of this at-bat!” he’d mutter, usually just loud enough that I could hear it. Drunk buffoons stumbling down the aisle with a small fortune in nachos and hot dogs with grilled onions, long lines of kids shuffling up and jostling each other holding peanuts and pop—the stadium is a live culture, everyone always negotiating one another’s good time. And that, of course, includes massive amounts of food and drink.
As technology worms its way further into our everyday lives, the very idea of what stadium food is and can be has shifted. It’s a brave new world out there, so here’s a roundup of some recent upgrades to the stadium concession experience, and what each might signal for the future.
Food delivery apps find a place in the mezzanine
I wish I could say that the days of long lines for overpriced food are on their way out. The prices are staying astronomical. But the lines–people have solutions about the lines! Don’t think about the money. Think about the shorter lines.
In October, DoorDash announced a partnership with Chase Bank in San Francisco, the home of the Golden State Warriors since 2019. If there was ever a place to further merge Silicon Valley’s desire to upend traditional systems and upsell consumers, it’s in their backyard stadium. According to a statement from DoorDash, “A key component of the partnership will allow fans attending games and events at Chase Center to order in-arena food and beverage items using the DoorDash mobile app.”
In Buffalo, the Sabres partnered with a point of sale provided named SpotOn that delivers a similar experience.
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And the grocery delivery company Instacart “announced a new point-of-sale POS system at Boston’s Fenway Park. With the system…consumers place their items on the device, which scans them with computer vision. From there, consumers select their payment option,” writes PYMNTS.
Maybe these partnerships could streamline the food ordering process, but I would imagine that most people will still order their food at similar times. It’s not that demand will change, the channel is just switching.
Food pickup lockers
At the beginning of college football season, Missouri University unveiled an interesting, if impersonal new facet to their fare options: attendees could order food that would then be delivered to a locker for pickup. According to MU’s director of athletics, the food lockers are the first such example in a college stadium.
Here’s a tweet showing the set-up.
Like these other app-powered food options, food can be ordered from a phone and then picked up at one’s leisure. What’s unclear is how exactly the food goes from the kitchen to the locker. Is the kitchen right behind the locker wall? Are there couriers who move food? And what happens if someone doesn’t pick their food up? And god forbid, if someone doesn’t have a smartphone, can they enjoy a hot pretzel??
The lockers look dehumanizing and miss the point of why sports are awesome. Am I the only one who doesn’t mind a little line? Change of pace and scenery, check out the wares, eavesdrop on some conversations, ordering from a cashier who doesn’t care if I drop dead right on the dirty concourse floor. Removing the fanfare of a live event to save a couple minutes doesn’t add up to a positive for me.
I saw this Tik Tok and it blew my mind. At Allegiant Stadium, the new home of the Las Vegas Raiders (another team that moved out of Oakland, tough draw for them), one can order quesadillas that come with individual sauce droppers.
It’s not the most appetizing looking presentation. The green sauce in the dropper, while probably good to taste, looks like an expired science experiment. But the utility of the idea is fascinating, and it does solve an issue that can sometimes arise. Some foods need sauces, and the stadium eating experience does not lend much space to a potentially messy meal. The dropper is clean and small enough to make a difference without causing headaches. Now, we could talk about all of that plastic that will no doubt find its way to the Great Pacific Trash Continent, but sports is a distraction. Who wants to think about real life– have you seen the quesadilla droppers?!
Ideas like quesadilla droppers are silly but novel and that makes them pop on places like Twitter and TikTok. The TikTok account that posted about these droppers has other funny novelty stadium items, like this Wynn-branded champagne plane. Las Vegas, a city built on excess and hyperbole, makes sense as the site of innovation in consumption. I’ll be keeping my eye on the concessions at Allegiant.
I’ve written before about my favorite stadium food invention, the Grub Tub. I even tested out a day’s worth of meals with the Grub Tub. Like the sauce squeezies, I first learned about Grub Tubs from social media, a viral tweet that showcased the Tub’s versatility.
The Tub is a response to having too much to carry and too few hands. Stadium food can get bulky, but combining a drink cup with a food holder in one device is a new way to simplify bringing food back to seats.
What excited me most about Grub Tubs is how it shifted my paradigm of how to eat. There is definitely room for improvement in the stadium eating experience. In the coming years services like in-stadium DoorDash might become the norm. But some of the coolest new technology is just a simple little plastic contraption.