Centerplate taps local, data, tech trends

CEO Des Hague discusses the onsite foodservice provider’s latest efforts.

Centerplate Inc. is focusing on local food, smart data analysis, and adapting to how Millennials prefer to receive information as it grows its business.

Des Hague, chief executive of the foodservice and hospitality company, discussed how Centerplate is harnessing these trends to improve menus and operations at its 360 onsite accounts, which include San Francisco’s AT&T Park, the Colorado Convention Center and Saks Fifth Avenue department stores.

“A couple years ago, people were talking about going local. This year, they’re talking about going hyper, hyper local — getting as much as you can from local communities,” Hague said. “It’s not just what the restaurants are doing. The retailers are saying they need a differentiated strategy to keep their guests happier. [Local is] a differentiator.”

Centerplate offers local ingredients at Sophie’s, the restaurant at Saks Fifth Avenue department stores, as well as at stadiums, concert venues and convention centers.

The company transformed the food offerings at the recent North American International Auto Show at the Cobo Center in Detroit, where grass-fed beef, sausages and other foods from local purveyors appeared on the menu.

Local foods are also a priority at AT&T Park, home of Major League Baseball team the San Francisco Giants, as well as the Colorado Convention Center in Denver, where Centerplate has planted a garden to grow produce for use onsite.

Local is not enough, however: The food also has to be good, Hague said.

“I don’t want Centerplate to be the Dell [of event foodservice], but the Apple — not the cheapest, but the best,” he said.

For example, the company seeks great beef for burgers, German casings for sausages, top-quality fish for tacos and naturally-raised chicken for chicken tenders.

“We want to make those products the best and to give the fan the right experience all the time,” Hague said.

Data, tech get smarter

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Centerplate has invested millions of dollars in consumer research. Insights into what consumers are looking for drives new food and service offerings, which drive success, Hague said. That’s easier said than done, however.

“Taking big data and transforming it to smart data and getting the right fit is what we’ve been working on,” he said.

To accomplish that, Centerplate has launched its own hospitality design firm called Centerplate Stir, which translates consumer data from touch points and guest surveys and develops “holistic hospitality programs.”

“We go to our venues and we completely map out what that venue should look like, what food goes where, what level of service should be deployed and what signage should go where,” Hague said.

For example, analyzing specific consumer data taught Hague and his team that 50 percent of Seattle Mariners fans at Safeco Field like to walk around “The ’Pen” — a food court offering artisanal pizzas, grass-fed beef burgers, Mexican tortas and other items — before going to their seats.

“They like to walk that area, mingle, get some food, get some entertainment and then go to their seats,” he said.

However, at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif., the future home of the National Football League’s San Francisco 49ers, Centerplate plans to appeal to customer interest in streamlined service with in-seat ordering capabilities and express pick-up lines.

“We’re taking this technology to a whole new level,” Hague said. “It’s about meaningfully putting technology to work where the fans want it most.”

Technology is increasingly important to the growing group of customers and employees born after the early 1980s.

“They access their information differently,” Hague said of Millennials, whom he projects will make up 75 percent of his workforce by 2020.

To reach increasingly tech-savvy and tech-dependent employees, the company has been rolling out Centerplate Spark over the past few weeks. The training system connects 2,500 managers to virtual training, incentive and recognition programs.

Technology is also changing how Centerplate interacts with its customers, not only with state-of-the-art in-seat ordering systems in Santa Clara, but across the country.

“They want to get their information before they get to the stadium or event center,” Hague said of Millennials.

That means developing new ways for visitors to access information and order food from their smartphones and tablets, as well as updating point-of-sale technology, installing digital menu boards and more.

“There’s a massive change in guest demographics; there’s a revolution,” Hague said. “We have to move faster and more aggressively than ever before. That’s our whole marketing and brand positioning. We want to serve them better than they’ve been historically served.”

Contact Bret Thorn at [email protected] [8].
Follow him on Twitter: @foodwriterdiary [9]