There is no doubt that the way large-scale operations cater to customers is changing rapidly.
Whether at theme parks, stadia or events arenas, both hospitality experiences and retail delivery are undergoing a huge shift in how they are operated. One venue which has really embraced the changing nature of what customers want is the Genting Arena in Birmingham.
Connected to the famous exhibition centre, the arena is part of the NEC Group and is supplied by in-house caterer Amadeus.
With a capacity of 15,700 guests, as well as a full array of F&B offers from portable beer dispensers, to branded retail, to premium hospitality, the arena is working hard to offer F&B outlets that stand up to the challenge brief.
Hosting everything from rock concerts to the National Horse of The Year Show, the arena has a varied visitor profile, meaning Amadeus’ general manager at the arena Annie Monnox and her team have to tailor the offer for each event, along with classic arena considerations such as dealing with high footfall at peak times and ensuring speed of service without compromising quality.
With general admission ticket holders arriving en masse to see their favourite act, they are greeted by a space that can only be described as a marketplace. With concession kiosks in the centre of the space and stylish retail outlets lining the edges, the area is perfect for guests to be served quickly and socialise before their show.
As the ‘grab’n’go’ phenomenon continues to grow Monnox and her team recognised the need to create desirable retail options with an identity. Familiar retail brands such as Neo’s Pizza and Theo’s Street Food have been brought in to offer eye-catching outlets offering quality F&B. But it wasn’t always this way.
“When I first started five years ago, all of the kiosk units were just white. They had slogans like Perfect Pizzas, Brilliant Burgers, Superb Spuds and generic titles,” says Monnox. “We recognised that customers eat with their eyes, and those kiosks didn’t look appealing, ND people didn’t know what they were. So we have spent the last four or five years refurbishing it.
“Our brands now look smart and appealing – and people want to eat there! So, we are really proud of what they’ve become.”
The arena also looked to tap into the current market trends of international flavours and street food with the creation of its own concepts such as Burrito Cantina and Hot Wok Kitchen. While these concepts conform to the arena-style eating – quick to serve, hand held and easy to eat – they also provide flexibility, something that can be utilised when serving a varying customer profile as well as picking up on diner movements.
“It used to be the case that eating in arenas was not very healthy – it was chips, chips or chips, with bread, bread, or bread,” says Monnox.
“We wanted to change it so if you go to the Burito Cantina, you can have the healthy ‘naked’ burrito. We can also change it to be more vegan-friendly in-line with the market. So we are looking to convert all of our vegetarian dishes to vegan to cater for the two markets in one. If we do that, we tick a huge box.
“For example, at Hot Wok Kitchen we can offer steamed bao buns, chicken wings and Sirancha rice, but we can also offer a pho, which is a vegan and vegetarian dish.”
But the redesign of the concessions offer does not stop at food. The beverage is pretty special, too.
In 2017, the NEC Group announced a partnership with Coca-Cola which included the creation of the fully branded Coke Bar at Genting Arena, while Monnox also headed up the implementation of the Stowford Press cider bar (complete with faux tree trunks) and protruding bar which breaks away from the concrete ‘hole-in-the-wall’ style kiosk.
“At the Amstel Bar, which opens at 5pm on event day, we can take up to £25k before the show,” says Monnox. “The good thing about Amstel is it is not one of your cheap brands, it’s a bit different and that attracts people. We are also looking into bringing in local company Peaky Blinders, which do craft beers, just to offer a different option.”
The arena also uses ‘beer bugs’ rather than hawkers – chilled mobile beer units can be set up in different areas around the arena to offer another destination for beer drinkers to go and retrieve their tipples. Not only does this shorten the queue times by drawing customers towards new service points but it also provides extra revenue through serving more people, quicker.
“We felt we could make more money and serve more people from a beer bug,” says Monnox. “The problem with a hawker is that it has to be someone who is bright, bubbly and can-do. Often it is the last job that you fill, and it can be a new person who is not confident but they are expected to get out there and sell.”
And beer is big business for the arena, with news last year that the two-night finale gigs for heavy metal band Black Sabbath took some £255,000 in F&B sales, including 34,600 pints of beer or cider sold by the venue’s beverage outlets.
“We take the bulk of our money between 6:30pm and 8pm,” says Monnox. “And then we usually have an interval where we can sometimes take up to £40k. If we have a half hour interval we are really excited, if there is no interval we are not happy. And 10-minute intervals are crazy!”
Adding extra service points and extra options has helped the arena grow its revenue, with its record taking for an evening at £166k, coming during a gig for Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds. The arena has also developed smaller, more flexible, kiosks which can double as either a sweet and confectionary unit – Sugar Rush – or ‘Sparkles’ champagne bar, again tailoring to the specific audience attending.
“Through changing our ethos and our units, we have managed to push up the revenue,” says Monnox. “But quality is the key. When you only have a couple of hours to serve a lot of people, it can be really difficult, but we want to serve quality.
“For example, we hand-wrap the burritos to order, which takes longer. But because the customer can see quality and passion going into their product, they actually don’t mind waiting that little bit longer. It has probably changed my attitude as well, I don’t mind customers waiting now as I know the food is great.”
The team have considered all aspects of the customer journey and have heavily invested in finding ways to help visitors locate the type of food or drink they want.
Marketing campaigns to raise awareness of the options pre-visit also serve to reduce queues, while QJacker, an app that allows customers to pre-order food and drink and collect at set stations, helps to reduce congestion and manage customer flows.
It is routine for the Genting Arena team to have to serve up to 15,000 customers at an event in a very short amount of time – typically, in a 90-120-minute window before the main event starts on the stage. Back in May 2017, ahead of a performance by Take That, the Amadeus team were tasked with looking at ways to serve customers quicker and reduce queuing time, giving customers the opportunity to get back and enjoy the act or performer they came to see.
The team decided to trial using cashless technology to speed up the volume of transactions and the arena introduced a 100% cashless bar – Electric Avenue – where people could only pay by cashless means.
“We found out that we were doing three times the transactions of a normal till,” says Monnox. “Queues were going down quickly, and staff weren’t worrying about the cash.
“So, if you had new starters or trainees, they sometimes don’t work out the money and change quickly, but this was just tap-and-go. It worked so well, we decided to move that on and turned half of our bars into cashless and again we have seen really good results with no negative impacts.”
Due to the success of this test bar, the Genting
Arena went completely cashless at all its F&B outlets from November 2017.
“We still had one till with cash in it in every kiosk as a precaution, but we did not advertise that fact,” says Monnox.
This has resulted in a switch of 70% cash purchases to 80% card purchases by customers, offering a quicker speed of service and reducing queueing – cashless payments speeds up every transaction by around 20 seconds. For a full arena show that’s the equivalent of 87 hours.
“It improves our bottom line,” says Monnox. “You can also save on the labour costs of cashing up. You can avoid sticky fingers of people not putting cash through the till and the discrepancies that come with that, we don’t have to provide 250 floats on every event. There are so many big ticks.”
Through upgrading the various general admission F&B offers, the Genting Arena has seen an uplift in revenue, contributing to Amadeus recording its best trading year to date in 2017.
IN THE AIR
For hospitality ticket holders, the arena offers hospitality through Amplify, delivering an exquisite dining experience courtesy of Amadeus’ talented chef brigade. Amplify offers different levels of hospitality: Freestyle, Club, Club Plus and Air.
Catering for single-event hospitality, Freestyle offers a two-course dining experience, while Club offers tasting menus of up to four courses. The team also provide a fine-dining experience through Air, with
Michelin-star-quality dishes, led by executive chef Jason Taws, served up at a number of hospitality restaurants throughout the venue. Air guests can choose from selection of dishes which are cooked fresh and served directly to tables.
“This is the top package, with drinks included and your VIP seat at the show deck in the arena, says Monnox. “The a la carte menu is all cooked from fresh in an hour and a half. How the chefs do it is amazing.”
AIR SAMPLE MENU
THE SUPPORT ACT
Char-grilled tuna, Jersey royals, black olive soil and tempura
Sweetcorn and sorrel veloute, chorizo and caramelised onion hush puppies, scorched cob
Salad of asparagus and Oxsprings air-cured ham, crispy duck yolk, rapeseed mayo
Roasted beets, ‘Blue Monday’ cheese, toasted hazelnut, micro pear, Dijon emulsion (v)
THE MAIN EVENT
Home-smoked Dukesmore beef fillet, beer-glazed shallots, cavolo nero
Scottish salmon, fricassee of peas, pomme puree, pancetta, marinière mussels, tarragon beurre blanc
Pan-roasted Gressingham duck breast, duck leg croustillant, poached nectarines, star anise jus
Asparagus tortellini, griddled yellow courgette, oyster mushroom, shallot rings, basil cream (v)
THE SWEET HIGHLIGHTS
Chocolate and raspberry brownie, raspberry ripple ice-cream, hot chocolate sauce
Orange bavarois, lemon tart, blood orange custard beignet
Best of British cheese plate, served with Rev. James ale chutney, confit fruit loaf, grapes and celery