Centerplate, one of the world’s largest hospitality companies, will now handle all Notre Dame concessions.
David Harr, associate vice president for auxiliary operations at Notre Dame, informed The Rover that “Centerplate has worked all summer to ramp up its operations and has a full complement of staff in place to service the many events and activities that actually began on June 30 with a baseball tournament at Frank Eck Stadium.”
The university announced last fall that it was soliciting bids for a private company, after more than 30 years of in-house management. Following a competitive bidding process, Centerplate was selected for its “track-record of success” and “thoughtful plan to provide an unparalleled hospitality experience,” John Affleck-Graves, university executive vice president, said in the university’s announcement.
Centerplate “specializes in the design and management of quick-serve, catering, restaurant and retail hospitality services,” as detailed on their website. One of the largest hospitality companies in the world, with 250 North American venues, Centerplate strives to achieve their motto of “Executing Extraordinary Experiences,” which translates into “treating each guest like an individual.” With an industry tenure of 80 years and 12 Super Bowls, 20 World Series, 15 official U.S. presidential inaugural balls, and more than 100 major college bowl games under their belt, the company aims to provide a “spark that turns guests into fans.”
Why make the shift? Harr explained that “[O]ur research indicated that, while our fans enjoy the game-day experience, we had room for improvement in our concessions. Our own food services department is outstanding, but Centerplate is an industry leader and innovator in concessions, and we believe this new partnership will take the quality of food and beverage options at our athletics events to a new level while also providing resources to support the University’s mission.”
Centerplate will now provide concessions services to Fighting Irish fans at the 80,000-seat Notre Dame Stadium, the Purcell Pavilion at the Joyce Center, the soon-to-open Compton Family Center ice arena, the Warren Golf Course, the stadia for all Olympic sports, and Irish Green. Some new menu items will include prime rib, grilled shrimp sandwiches, Philly cheese steaks, gourmet burgers, barbecue nachos, and chicken tenders. The company has invested approximately $2 million to improve Notre Dame’s food services. Much of this investment will go towards installing a system that accepts credit cards.
What will happen to the more than 60 non-profit groups that used to staff concessions at Notre Dame, some of which received the majority of their funding from stand proceeds? The university has ensured that they will continue to raise funds by working the stands. Though their commission will be reduced from 15 to 12 percent, university officials predict improvements in service and quality that should generate more customers and greater overall revenue. Volunteers will also no longer need to handle set-up, reducing their time commitment.
“Training sessions for the more than 900 volunteers that work the concession stands as part of the fund-raising efforts of more than 60 non-profit organizations in our community have been on-going and will continue right up until the first home football game,” Harr said.
Rev. Greg Fiechtner of St. Paul Lutheran Church shared his perspective in an interview with The Rover.
“It’s kind of up in the air. We’ve had a group go over to the first of the training processes, and I guess this Friday we’ll be going over and getting checked out on the cash registers,” he said. “Right now it’s a little early to make any comment. There are some things that are very much the same, and there are some things, that, we’ll see how they work!” Fiechtner suggested that Centerplate will encourage a “more professional” atmosphere and more rigorous inspections.
At least one volunteer is not sold on the bright side of the deal. Rev. James Miller, pastor of Sunnyside Presbyterian Church, expressed his disappointment in an interview with the South Bend Tribune.
“I’m confused as to why Notre Dame felt like they needed to increase their profit. It’s really pennies in the bucket compared to the goodwill in the community,” he said. Sunnyside Presbyterian Church has run a concessions stand at home games for over 14 years.
On the issue of volunteer participation, Harr said, “The arrangement…has been mutually beneficial for many years, filling a university need to service the venues and events that are part of the concessions program, while giving the members of these organizations the chance to work together and supplement their operating funds through receipt of a percentage of their stand’s sales. I should add that we have 8 new non-profit organizations involved in our program this year.”
Harr added that no major changes are anticipated for campus concessions stands, which many dorms and clubs currently take advantage of for fundraising.