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National Restaurant Association - How to make concessions part of the guest experience, not just a transaction

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How to make concessions part of the guest experience, not just a transaction

Your first ball game. A new museum exhibit. Visiting animals at the zoo. Part of what makes these adventures so memorable is the food that you enjoy at the venue. At the 2013 National Restaurant Association Restaurant, Hotel-Motel Show, an expert panel discussed how dining can and should be part of any great destination experience. 

Support the organization’s mission

Concessions can support an organization’s mission, both enhancing the venue as well as contributing to the guest experience. Harriett Resnick, vice president of visitor experience and business development at the Chicago Botanic Garden, said “food is an integral part of our organization” because everything literally comes back to plants. The Garden’s mission is “to promote the enjoyment, understanding and conservation of plants in the natural world.” Concessions offer an opportunity to subtly educate guests about that mission; for example, the Garden promotes the seasonality of plants, so no strawberries are served in January. Similarly, Amy Ritter-Cowen, executive vice president at Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium, shared the Aquarium’s mission of connecting people to the living world and inspiring them to make a difference. As part of that mission, sustainable seafood is very important to them, and it influenced their choice of foodservice provider. Andy Zakrajsek, vice president of operations and experiences at COSI in Columbus, Ohio, shared its mission to “inspire an interest in science and encourage people to learn about their world.” Learning about one’s world naturally relates to sustainability, so COSI has a fully compostable kitchen with reusable serviceware. To “teach without being preachy about it,” educational and subtle messaging is placed throughout foodservice areas. The 240,000 kindergarteners and caregivers who visit annually sort their refuse into compost, recycling and puposefully-named landfill bins in foodservice areas. COSI’s design team even created kid-sized logos on the bins’ exteriors so kids could more easily figure out where to put everything. 

Be purposeful, vigilant and flexible with partners

Ritter-Cowen emphasized the need to have partners “understand and live your brand”; you and your partner must align for the guest because no one distinguishes between who’s an employee of whom. This requires flexibility and understanding of each other’s brands on both sides. To cement this bond at Shedd, foodservice employees and Shedd employees go through training together to understand the Shedd brand.  In this case, a “reflection of the Shedd brand is a reflection of the Sodexo brand.” 

Improve your bottom line

Resnick discussed how the café incorporates the experience of the gardens into the customer interaction; the Garden specifically refers to visitors as customers because they are choosing to spend the day and their dollars there as opposed to other Chicago attractions. Resnick encourages employees to see selling a beverage as a “development transaction” because a customer who feels valued is more likely to contribute to the nonprofit. In fact, 65 percent of visitors to the Garden are members, and the membership renewal rate is 72 percent. This type of alignment between concessions, service and development improves loyalty and positively impacts the bottom line. 


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