The O2 Level One - refining retail catering

The O2 Level One - refining retail catering

In the May/June edition of Sports & Leisure Catering Magazine 2017, we constructed a special feature looking into the evolution of retail, kiosk and concession catering.

On visiting venues such as the Genting Arena and NEC in Birmingham and Newbury Racecourse, as well as consulting caterers such as Elior UK, Arribar! and Jockey Club Catering, it was obvious that change is afoot.

The development of specialist retail and kiosk concepts is at the forefront of a concessions revolution that is doing away with the standard, concrete ‘hole in the wall’ public catering outlet.

There are tailored concepts, with bespoke menus specifically designed for quick, on the go service while at the same time flexible enough to adapt to the venue or event in which they are positioned.

On a recent visit to The O2 we were fortunate to be shown around the new Level One redevelopment, which has produced a remarkable rethink of public and concession catering in conjunction with caterer Levy UK. For example, bars have been pulled out away from the wall to become free-standing in the concourse, allowing 360-degree access and interactivity for customers, while collaborations with major brands have helped them become more familiar to customers.

Following our visit, we caught up with director of catering operations for Levy UK at The O2 Steve Cova on the new-look concourse.

What new kiosks and concessions have been created as part of the redevelopment, and why did they need to change?

“The O2 is home to a 21,000-capacity arena and in 2017 Levy UK opened 11 new bars and food outlets as part of the Level One redevelopment, creating a new customer-centric food and drink destination.
“The aim of working with our partner AEG, who own and operate The O2, was to redefine the concourse experience. The objective was to create a targeted offer to suit the customer demographic and considerably contribute to the enjoyment of a night out through installing new concepts in line with customer expectations on what they are seeing and eating on the high street.”

So, what have you done to make them more engaging and flexible?

“The O2 has 12 units across Level One, from white label pop-ups to flexible kiosks and concessions, which can adapt their design, brand and food and beverage offering depending on the event and audience.
“Our white label kitchen kiosks can change their identity depending on the event. For example, at a Justin Bieber concert we had a ‘Bieber Kitchen’ selling Bieber burgers. This allows us as an operations team to have some fun and get creative and also personalise the experience we offer to our guests.
“We look at all touch points and consider how to offer a rounded experience. For instance, we had all our employees wearing Bieber badges for a Justin Bieber concert and during Disney events all our cocktail bars become mocktail bars.
“We have created bespoke disposables to reinforce the branding – every little detail has been considered to create an identity; we connect to the look and feel of the venue, incorporating subtle nods on the way.”

How will the experience of using the new retail offer change?

“The O2 was the first-ever Levy UK venue and over several years and research we have developed the guest offering, which now includes different tiers of experience, from beers and wines to premium craft beer bars and cocktail bars, offering premium products and service. We have also invested in technology and equipment to help service flow and reduce queue times for visitors.
“At any major performance, thousands of customers are using our services at The O2. We have researched and segmented the audiences and developed concepts which allow us to flex the offer to suit a particular event or concert demographic, at the same time optimising operational efficiency.”

Why was it necessary to move away from the ‘hole in the wall-style’ kiosk?
“We have found our customers are looking for a more elevated experience, so we have moved away from ‘transactional’ hole in the wall-style kiosks and developed an offering that has three constituent parts:

  • Eye-catching, ergonomic design, layout & equipment
  • Effective, clear customer communication
  • Well-trained people to deliver consistently great service

“We wanted to create destination bars and food outlets where customers want to spend time pre-show in the build-up to the main event.”

*In our Kiosks and Concessions Special feature, we saw a number of collaborations with F&B brands; is it important to work with recognisable products when creating the kiosks? *

“We work with many global brands and incorporate branding into design where and whenever possible. Incorporating brands into activations and concepts helps us to create an identity within the environment which gives our guests a sense of familiarity.
“We have several high street-style menus that can rotate and adapt to the event and the profile of the clientele. Matching their expectations on the high street and reinforcing similarity with guests encourages them to purchase a product.
“For example, we recently built a Budweiser beer bottle wall within the concourse. Everything has a purpose and the feature of a beer wall was to create a destination for guests to purchase a drink.”

Is it fair to say that sometimes kiosk food can be viewed in a negative light, and how are you challenging this?

“If you get it right you can deliver a great and memorable customer experience and change perceptions of kiosk food. We deliver excellent food and drinks at a quick and fast rate in high numbers and at an affordable price. Through this we are challenging the negative perceptions that some visitors have of kiosk food and bringing standards in line with the high street.
“We have incorporated the food and drink experience to become a part of the whole experience when visiting The O2.”

What new catering equipment and technology has been employed in these areas?

“All our kiosks have digital screens displaying early messages to help customers make their decision so when they reach the till it is as quick as possible. We have advanced till mapping so the server has the top selling items in one spot, again making it quicker to process an order. We have also rolled out contactless payment throughout the venue so payment is quick and simple.”

Why is it important?

“You have to get the mechanics right to operate efficiently and to operationally deliver a successful and consistent product. Logistically, each station has been specifically set up to run as efficiently as possible. Every piece of equipment has been purposefully placed and operations and processes have been thought through.
“We have looked at how our teams serve and interact with the space around them, creating stations within serving points and purposely placing machines and equipment next to each other to manage service flows.
“For example, a drinks machine has the ice dispenser underneath and cup storage to the side so staff at the till point can complete a transaction without moving from the spot, allowing for a quicker and more efficient service.”

So, have the new kiosks improved queuing times and increased serving speeds?

“Most definitely. We have invested in innovative technology such as digital screens to help customers make their decision quickly, while giving us the ability to change the offer depending on the audience.
“Installing contactless payment systems throughout the venue and introducing fast-pour taps that dispense drinks at a far better speed is making the average transaction much quicker.
“We have future-proofed our kiosks at The O2 through our dedicated creative team, and are continually analysing data and creating new dishes based on previous customer behaviours and service history to know what popular dishes we should be offering and how to manage stock levels.
“Unlike other venues, where kiosk options are dictated by seat number, we create a high street-style menu so five items are available to all customers throughout the venue.”

Finally, the key question – just how important is it for modern concessions areas to be more interactive and offer better-quality products?

“The modern concession is no longer just a place to quickly grab some food or a drink, it has become a destination within a venue, and part of the whole guest experience. In understanding this we have been able to offer guests a high-quality product through an interactive concept which allows the guest to connect with the environment around them and the entertainment they have come to see.”