High school concession stands — not quite convenience store and not quite fast food joint, these unassuming huts are something much better: the heart and soul of high school athletic teams across America. Feeding fan appetites so they can enjoy the big game under the Friday night lights without rumbling tummies, concession stands are also one of the main fundraising sources for the sports teams whose turf they operate on. At most schools, every time grandpa buys another hot cocoa, his dollars will end up paying for new uniforms for the track team, or bats for the softball team, or van rides to the soccer state championships, etc.
What does this mean? Quite simply that a well-run concession stand will lead to more money for the school’s sports teams, which will in turn allow the student-athletes to perform to the best of their abilities.
High School Concession Stand Basics
Yup, there’s a lot of responsibility riding on your shoulders, concession stand coordinator. You’re the quarterback of the whole operation. If you’re new to the game, here’s a refresher on what a typical sports food hut menu should include:
Even if you make the best risotto ever, don’t serve it at a concession stand. You don’t want to stray too far from the above expected list with complicated entrees. Fans want to get in and out of the snack stand so they can get back to the game, and overloading the menu will slow the line down as people hmm and haw over all the great selections. The food also has to be simple enough that it can be quickly prepared in a limited space with little-to-no cooking surfaces; give the fans slow service and next time they might be packing their own supper, leaving you with ten pounds of cold risotto to take home.
Nobody wants to see their son’s baseball team lose, just like nobody wants to lose money. However, both could be lost if you’re not pricing items correctly. Go too low, and you’re basically handin’ out the stuff for free. Go too high and you’ll have people saying no thanks – remember, a high school concession stand is not like Dodger stadium where it somehow costs $15 for a soda and a hot dog and you somehow still pay for it. As a general rule of thumb, price the items at 2x the cost of what you got them for – for example, soda and water should be around $1, sports drinks around $1.50, etc. To make the most money possible, ask local businesses to support your school’s sports teams by giving donations of supplies or bulk discounts.
Advanced Snack Stand Tactics
One of the toughest opponents in concession stands is space. There’s usually a lot of bodies moving around in very tight quarters, not to mention all of the food and beverage supplies laying around. Fighting back against this will ultimately depend on what type of concession stand you’re working with, and that’s why we recommend that you plan ahead. Know where you’re going to be setting up camp at least a week before the sports event, and even better, before you finalize your menu. Then you can gauge how many water bottles you’ll have room for, whether the building has a sink, a three-prong or a two-prong outlet, appliances already inside, etc., and you can polish up your menu accordingly. Otherwise, when you end up running operations by the agriculture buildings with no electricity, your buyers are going to be getting some nasty “cold” dogs.
Prioritize Beverage Storage in Concession Stands
Whatever your specific food items may be, there’s no such thing as a concession stand without soda, water, and coffee. Most high school sports events are structured so that JV athletes compete before the varsity teams. These kids stick around to watch their teammates play, and in the meantime, they get very thirsty. Athletes rely on the snack bar to keep them hydrated. And then there are all of the parents, friends, families, and visitors who are always looking for something to quench their thirst after yodeling their brains out from the stands.
While it may be tempting to serve the visitors lukewarm, shaken-up Cokes, the point is to keep people coming back, no matter if they’re rivals. After all, their cash is going to fund your home team, right? As such, beverage stocking, storing, cooling, and dispensing should be your first priority when setting-up a snack bar. Taking limited space into account, you should be thinking about small, compact appliances that don’t draw tons of energy in order to keep bottles and sodas at the proper temperatures. For example, a regular residential-usage refrigerator is going to be too big for a snack bar, and even if it does fit, you can’t conveniently move it around to other locations.
Concession Stand Beverage Coolers
Instead, a beverage cooler is perfectly sized for a snack bar, while still providing enough storage space so that chilled drink supplies won’t run out during the first time-out rush. A beverage cooler does exactly what its name implies: it cools beverages. Slightly reminiscent of a hotel minibar, but with more class and capacity, models like the NewAir AB-1200 Beverage Cooler can hold 126 cans of soda and utilize only 85 watts of energy, so you don’t have to worry about blowing out a fuse in the snack hut.
What’s most important is that a beverage cooler like the one above is freestanding and weighs only 62 pounds. If you’ve got a mobile concession stand that travels between, for example, the pool grounds for swim events, and the track for meets, you’re going to want appliances that are lightweight and compact enough to fit in the passenger seat of the family car, and ones that don’t need to be installed — simply plug the AB-1200 in and it starts cooling.
A beverage cooler like this is also ideal for sports events year-round, since you can set the inside temperature anywhere from 34°F to 64°F. This means you can up the temperature a few notches during winter sports to avoid giving people brain freezes, and drop it in the late spring when temperatures rise.
Also, a can cooler with multiple, removable racks makes organization easy, so that when somebody wants a Sprite, the server knows exactly where to reach for it. At 19.00″ x 18.25″ x 33.13″, the NewAir AB-1200 is less than three feet in size in any direction, making it small enough that you could easily fit two in a snack bar: one for water and sports drinks, and one for sodas. You can bet that almost every customer is going to order a drink, so if you have one of your crew members specifically manning the beverage coolers, the whole process will go a lot smoother.
Cold and Hot Water Dispensers
Cold beverages are a staple of every high school concession stand, but don’t forget about hot beverages. In outdoor stadiums in the winter, oftentimes coffee, cocoa, and the energy from a great play are the only sources of warmth for fans. You can bet that when people get a chance to stand up from those cold bleachers during half-time, they’re going to come looking for a hot drink. To make coffee at sporting events, you have a couple of options.
- Use a traditional coffee maker to make 12 cups at a time and leave it sitting there; or
- Use a single serve coffee maker to brew one serving for each customer at a time; or
- Put hot water and a scoop of instant coffee in a cup
The obvious problem with the first is that it’s not efficient. Unless you have a couple of coffee machines running, you’re going to quickly run out of the good stuff and will have to wait for another pot to brew when you get several customers in a row.
The obvious problem with the second is that it’s expensive. While single-serve coffee makers can maybe work quickly enough that a sports event customer wouldn’t get impatient, the cost of the pods is going to add up each and every time you serve coffee.
The obvious problem with the third is that you might not have hot enough water. However, unlike the first two, this is easily solvable with a water dispenser, such as the NewAir WCD-200W Hot & Cold Water Dispenser.
These types of dual water dispensers are great, because you can instantaneously get cold water at any temperature between 43°F to 50°F, and hot water at any temperature between 176°F to 203°F. And guess what the ideal temperature range is for making instant coffee that tastes pretty darn good? 195 – 205°F.
Instant coffee is made from coffee beans that have already been roasted, ground, and then dried. Add hot water to the mix to rehydrate it, and you’ve got an instant cup of coffee. Or a cup of instant coffee. The point is that instant coffee is ideal for a sports concession stand because it’s cheaper than regular coffee and it’s quicker to prepare. This means you can meet the demands of customers while making a profit. The essential tool to accomplishing this is the water dispenser.
Since it’s compatible with 2,3, or 5 gallon bottles of water, a dispenser could potentially have 640 ounces of hot water ready for coffee. Using 6 ounces of water per dash of instant coffee, you can make around 106 cups of joe before you have to switch out the water jug – a whole lot more than using a single serve coffee maker or a traditional brewer. You can use the exact same logic for selling hot cocoa too.
At around 26 pounds and requiring no installation, a freestanding water dispenser like the NewAir WCD-200W is portable and perfect for usage in snack stands. Refillable water jugs are also a more cost-effective product than individual water bottles. The storage compartment at the bottom is an added bonus for locations where space is tight; store the coffee cup supplies in there instead of leaving them underfoot as customers are served.
We recommend a dual water dispenser for concession stands – meaning that it provides both hot and cold water – rather than just a hot water dispenser or just a water cooler. While most customers are going to opt to buy a water bottle, considering that Americans used a whopping 50 billion in 2014, you could offer them a cheaper alternative of water cups, with refills. Refills keep people coming back for more and buying more.
Remember also that you’re going to have a team of volunteers scurrying around the snack stand with you, and instead of having them dig into the water bottle supply, they can rely on the cold water from the dispenser to keep them hydrated and working at the top of their game.
Concession Stand Ideas Play-By-Play
In review, here are the main points you want to cover if you’re just starting out as a high school concession stand entrepreneur:
- Scope out the place before you get supplies. Where will you be setting up shop? Does it have electrical outlets and running water? How much space do you have available?
- Create your menu, prioritizing beverages, simplicity, and speed of service.
- Reach out to local businesses for bulk discounts and donations of supplies.
- Price your items so you make a profit, but keep customers coming back – 2x what you paid should be about right.
- Figure out how you can best store and serve both hot and cold beverages. A can cooler and a hot and cold water dispenser are both great appliances for concession stands. Get them set-up and stocked before the big game starts.
- Make sure your volunteers know the menu front-to-back, where everything is located in the snack bar, and that they show up at least 15 minutes before customers begin to roll in.
- For specialty foods, you’ll need other small appliances, such as a hot dog roller grill, a popcorn machine, etc. Remember, if a food item is going to be too hard to serve, then don’t serve it.
After you’ve covered these key points, the rest is downhill to a sure victory for you and your home team!