10 Tips for Running Concessions
In her first year coordinating concession stands at Mahomet-Seymour (Ill.) High School, Julie Clapper relied heavily on the experience of people around her--including her children. In this story, she shares her advice on managing a booster club's most consistently successful fundraiser.
by Julie Clapper
Vice President for Concessions
Mahomet-Seymour (Ill.) High School Booster Club
Mahomet is a town with 869 kids attending high school and a strong base of support for athletics. We're a football community, so it's not unusual for our stadium to be completely full, and concessions are by far our biggest moneymaker. In five home games last fall, we raised $19,000, and I learned these 10 valuable lessons:
1. Keep your menu simple. Choose food that's quick to prepare and easy to eat, so fans can just grab it, carry it back to their seats, and enjoy it while they're watching the game. We offer a dozen kinds of candy, along with popcorn, hotdogs, nachos, soft pretzels, and drinks, but our biggest seller for football is barbecued pork chop sandwiches. They're six-ounce chops, butterflied, grilled, and served on a bun for $3 apiece, or $5 with chips and a drink. In a typical game, we sell 300 to 400 pork chop sandwiches, and at homecoming, we sell at least 100 more.
2. Be consistent. Some teams may ask you to stock particular items, and if you can, great. That's why we offer peanuts at baseball and chili at soccer. But if you try to please everybody, your job can become unmanageable. On a typical Saturday, when we have three stands running at once, keeping consistent makes it easy to maintain quality. Our priority has to be running our concessions efficiently, which means serving everything fresh, avoiding confusion, and saying no if we have to.
3. Distribute responsibility. Each of our teams has a parent representative who comes to our meetings once a month. They're our main contacts and it's their job to make sure parents volunteer to set up the stands, cook the food, and clean up afterward.
4. Inventory supplies every week. On Sunday, after all the games are over, we visit each concession stand and make a list of things to bring from our main storeroom, which is inside the fieldhouse. That's where we stock everything we carry, and if any of the stands run out during a game, they can get more from storage. Anything they need, it's there.
5. Be flexible. During spring and fall in central Illinois, the temperature can be 80 degrees one day and 30 degrees the next. Second-guessing the weather is one of the hardest parts of this job. Will it be cold enough for coffee and hot chocolate? Or will it be so hot that people only want pop? We make sure we're prepared either way, with plenty of supplies on hand in our storeroom. If we over-order perishables, like pork chops, we'll sell them for half-price at the end of the third quarter, and if there's any uncooked meat left after that, we'll sell it to boosters at cost. That way, the food doesn't go to waste and the booster club covers its expenses.
6. Ask for advice. If you're thinking about offering something new, ask your kids what they think. Use them as a sounding board. After all, they're the people who are coming to your concession stand, and if you can stock the things they want, you're going to make money.
7. Offer assistance. Each of our teams is allowed one fundraising game a year, which is a good time for us to help. Before the contest, we fully stock their concession stand. Afterward, we do an inventory and sell them anything they've used at a few cents above cost. It's a good deal on both ends, because we make a little money and the teams don't have to worry about stocking and ordering the right amount of food.
8. Visit other concession stands. Whenever I attend an away game, I make sure to check out the concessions. It's important to keep prices competitive for our area, so as long as we're in the middle of the range, we're doing well. It's also a great way to come up with new ideas. Last year, we went to a game where they were selling dill pickles, so we're thinking about trying that out.
9. Connect with people staffing the stands. Even if I'm not able to attend a game, it's good to pop in on our concessions every once in a while, just to make sure everything is going okay. While I'm there, I say hi to everyone and ask if they need anything. Every once in a while, I need to make a special trip, which is part of the job, but mostly I'm there to offer help and let people know their work is appreciated.
10. Enjoy yourself. As concessionaires, it's easy to worry about having too much of one item or not enough of another. When I started this job, the previous person in charge told me, "Nobody has ever died because they didn't get a snickers bar." He was right. As hard as we try, there are going to be times when we run out of something and miss a sale, but it's not the end of the world. That's what I tell our parent reps, too: Relax. Yes, we have a lot of work to do, but make sure you have fun while you're doing it.