Thought Leadership
8 minutes

The landscape of live events has undergone a transformative shift, especially concerning the way patrons experience concessions and food services.

Live events, from sports games to concerts, have historically been characterized by a sense of shared excitement, but recent years have ushered in a monumental shift in how patrons interact with concessions and food services. For many venues, concessions form a large share of revenue, as the average customer spent $32.02 on concessions at a sports or concert event, according to Datassential's 2023 report.

Integrating contactless ticketing with food and beverage purchasing has benefits for the long and near term as it aids in the safety of fans for now and can generate higher average check sizes in the future.

This transformation, fueled by technological advancements and the changing landscape of consumer behavior, is evident in the rapid adoption of in-seat and contactless ordering systems across event venues.Technomic's research predicted that the sports and recreating segment will grow 6.8% in 2024 compared to 3.7% in 2022.

In recent years, the convergence of technology, changing consumer behaviors, and the impacts of the pandemic have accelerated the adoption of in-seat and contactless ordering systems in event venues.

A Shift in Event Dynamics: Embracing Contactless Ordering

The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic not only reshaped safety protocols but also accelerated the demand for contactless experiences. As venues across North America reopened to near-full capacity, a resurgence of in-seat food ordering became evident.

Notably, the desire for a contactless environment was fueled by a collective eagerness to minimize unnecessary physical interactions, fostering a safer and more hygienic event experience. While the concept of in-seat food ordering appears innovative, its inception dates back several years.

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The Birth and Evolution of In-Seat Food Ordering

While in-seat food ordering may seem like a recent innovation, its roots trace back years earlier. In 2014, Madison Square Garden pioneered in-seat ordering, setting the stage for a digital transformation in patrons engaging with concessions.

The integration of digital point-of-sale systems empowered attendees to order food, drinks, and merchandise seamlessly through their personal devices. This marked the inception of a trend that has since evolved to cater to the preferences of an increasingly tech-savvy audience.

Post-pandemic, the paradigm shift in venue operations aimed at balancing occupancy regulations with profitability per customer became a core focus. In-seat ordering emerged as a solution to streamline food services, allowing patrons to pre-order meals and ensuring prompt delivery to their seats. This not only enhanced the fan experience but also aligned with safety measures, contributing to the overall success of venues in a transitional period.

In-Seat Ordering Drives Change

The post-pandemic world ushered in a series of changes in how venues operate, particularly in enhancing the fan experience while adhering to safety measures. Extensive renovations of sports and concert venues are also driving additional development of the necessary infrastructure to support digital transformation and the use of new technologies.

The prevalence of mobile ticketing and payment systems has reached an all-time high in stadiums nationwide, with mobile ordering not far behind. At BC Place in Vancouver, Centerplate has introduced in-seat mobile ordering for 1,500 exclusive club-level seats, achieving an impressive 26% adoption rate.

Enthusiastic sports fans can effortlessly use their smartphones to scan QR code stickers placed on the seatbacks in front of them, instantly accessing a menu and placing orders without the need to download any additional applications. Each QR code is encoded with specific data. Consequently, when a fan utilizes Apple Pay or Google Pay for their order, food delivery personnel are promptly notified of the seat number, ensuring swift delivery of the order within minutes.

Furthermore, there's a noticeable surge in the popularity of cashier-less markets and self-service drink refill stations. This trend is not just about convenience but also optimizing labor resources. The focus is transferring labor responsibilities to consumers while enhancing overall experiences and bolstering profitability with a leaner workforce.

As in-seat ordering continues to grow, operators of sports venues are opening up more space for pickup lines or even lockers to store food until the fans come to collect it. Venues see in-seat ordering as a solution that will streamline the food service process, allowing patrons to pre-order meals and facilitating quicker and more efficient delivery directly to their seats.

The Demand for Contactless and Cashless Experiences

Contactless ordering isn't merely a convenience; it's a shift towards safer and more hygienic practices. However, catering to diverse preferences remains a challenge. Still, some of the biggest problems for fans are long lines, slow service and errors in food and drink orders. 

While a significant percentage of patrons prefer digital payments and contactless experiences, some still opt for physical cash. Balancing these preferences poses operational challenges but presents opportunities for food service vendors to align with safety measures and elevate the overall customer experience.

Embracing New Technologies for In-Seat Ordering

As venues look towards a future that embraces near-full capacity, the need for food service vendors to integrate robust and adaptable systems becomes paramount. Each venue presents its unique challenges, requiring vendors to be agile and flexible in predicting and managing product demands.

Digital integration not only streamlines operations but also enables vendors to gauge customer preferences, optimize inventory, and drive profitability through strategic pricing strategies. Here are some of the latest examples of using new technology to improve customer experience: 

AI Self-Checkout. AT&T Center features AI self-checkpoint with self-dispensing popcorn machines in several locations.

Digital Age Verification. Fans in the AT&T Center will be able to order cocktails via an automated service that will use facial recognition tech to recognize all users registered with a government-issued ID.

Self-Ordering Kiosks. Touch-to-order kiosks will allow customers to customize their event experience with food delivery to their seats or get food at the kiosks.


How Contactless Ordering Enhances Ticket Buying

Contactless ordering fits well into the traditional ticketing platform flow. Following a similar upsell process as add-on merchandise, parking, reservations, and more.

Like other add-on items, API integrations enable contactless ordering during the ticket-buying process. There are several parties involved in contactless dining: the ticketing platform, a digital order provider, and food vendor(s). We have devised workflows to resolve the complexity of connecting these entities. The tighter the level of integration, the more automation and options.

An attendee can make their food choices, select a time for delivery, and complete payment for their tickets, food and beverage, and any other add-on items at the same point in time.

On the fulfillment and delivery side, the digital order provider integrates with the food vendor's POS system. When an order is placed, the digital order provider transmits the details to the vendor's POS system. This allows the vendor to organize inventory, food preparation, and delivery processes. How the kitchen receives the order from the POS service depends on the vendor’s internal automation.

Here’s a high-level look at the contactless ordering integration process between those involved:

A workflow chart shows the pathways involved in adding a digital ordering service to a ticket purchase flow.

Connecting the three (or more) parties involved in implementing contactless ordering into the ticket purchase process can be complex. 

Ticket sale confirmation would be the same as it is today. Whether email or app notification, it can include a sale list, including any food and beverage. The receipt can also include a link to adding a ticket to the patron’s preferred digital wallet.

Ticketing platforms can capture the patron’s mobile device number and send a notification to the patron to confirm delivery. Patrons also must have a way to contact someone if their order does not arrive or if they are not receiving notifications. The ticketing platform's access control app or confirmation notification should provide support details.

Benefits of Contactless Ordering

1. Improved Patron Experience

Venues and event organizers can create a better experience by engaging with patrons from the moment they arrive. Notification of a patron's arrival can come through the ticketing platform’s access control app. Engagement can include welcoming them, confirming their order, and communicating with them via their mobile device to let them know when their food is on its way.

2. Encourage More Orders

No matter what a patron orders ahead of time, they always want more! It’s in everyone’s best interest to make initial and additional contactless ordering as frictionless as possible. When patrons receive confirmation for their ticket sale, there should always be a link to add extra purchases.

Patrons should get a confirmation for each new order, the status of said order, and the delivery time. The same is true for any order completed at the time of ticket sale.

3. Increase Opportunities to Connect With Patrons

Ticketing platforms and event organizers have direct contact with patrons through mobile devices. This can help reduce issues before they escalate to bad reviews or complaints in social media posts. By making contact centers accessible, patrons struggling with a process can reach out to get help.

Ticketing platforms, event organizers, and venues can collect data during the sale process. This can provide forecasting opportunities. Which can inform upsells, future event planning, and more to drive revenue.

4. For More Than Sports Venues

While it may seem that contactless ordering works best for sports venues, that is definitely not the case. With ticket prices slowly going up from 2020 to 2023, they are still one of the most economical entertainment options, especially for millennials and Gen Zs.

In Marcus Theatres, 2022 was particularly successful, with 44% of its annual revenue coming from concessions. According to Statista, in Q2 of 2023, Marcus Theatres reported $59.7 million in theatre concession sales alone. 

By folding food and beverage sales in with ticket purchases, cinemas can encourage patrons to buy more. Another idea is partnering with local restaurants to provide contactless ordering of food and beverages before, during, or after an event. Patrons order and pay for their food when purchasing tickets.  

5. Patrons Want Delivery and Contactless Payments

Take a moment to think about the state of digital ordering. Most associate digital ordering with delivery services from their favorite businesses. Why should inside a venue be any different?

It’s the same principle — moving ordering from a preparation area or kitchen to a mobile device. Instead of driving to a delivery location, servers walk to the seat and make the delivery. 

Customers love contactless ordering because of its convenience. Forty-four percent of Americans cited convenience as the most important factor for ordering and paying for food and merchandise with their phone.5

How Touchless Ordering Impacts Operations

Operational Benefits

For socially distanced events, concession areas may not allow fans to approach, at least initially. Still, there are several ways contactless ordering can benefit operations.

Concessions or restaurants that receive orders ahead of an event can better manage the inventory needed, as well as how much to pre-cook for the day.

Venues and event organizers can redistribute staff who had before been behind the counter to delivery. As the luxury of contactless ordering grows more popular, venues may need to add more staff to this area anyway. 

Contactless ordering evokes a time when food vendors wandered within a venue, trying to meet demand as it rose. Mobile devices allow ticketing platforms, event organizers, and venues to meet demand, on demand.

Operational Considerations

Yet we can expect that physical POS systems won’t disappear overnight. When patrons submit a contactless order, it needs to be seamlessly shared with many systems. Such as concessions’ or restaurant’s POS, through to the kitchen ticketing system.

Another level of integration could be a delivery service. If a concession or a restaurant uses one, order information can automatically be pushed through to that service. It can be complex. Any miscalculation in sharing information can result in issues with the ordering and delivery process.

Delivery times can be another concern. Patrons select a delivery time when placing their mobile order. Food vendors may need to override a delivery time. Vendors and venues must be able to notify patrons of changes. 

Modifying delivery times can be crucial, especially for socially distanced events. Delivery staff may be limited. Food and beverages may need to be one hundred percent delivered to maintain the safety of an event.

Strategies for Successful In-Seat and Contactless Ordering

Successful implementation of in-seat and contactless ordering systems necessitates a multifaceted approach. Vendors must navigate unique venue requirements, promote contactless payments, strategically price offerings to welcome patrons back, and reimagine traditional buffet-style services to align with the new norm of individualized experiences.

1. Venue-Specific Adaptation

Tailor solutions to fit each venue's unique characteristics and demands. Different venues may have distinct layouts, customer demographics, and technological infrastructures that require customizations for optimal functionality.

2. Comprehensive Digital Integration with Ticketing Applications

Integrate robust and versatile systems encompassing the entire ordering process, from menu browsing to payment and delivery. Seamless integration optimizes operational efficiency and enhances the user experience.

3. Accurate Demand Forecasting

Leverage data analytics and historical patterns to predict demand accurately. This helps manage inventory effectively, minimize wastage, and ensure sufficient supplies for in-seat orders. It also helps restaurants predict the inventory needed for every event and ensure they always have enough food for visitors' changing needs.

4. Encouraging Contactless Payments

Promote digital payment methods to align with the contactless ordering system. Educate patrons about the benefits of digital transactions, emphasizing safety, convenience, and faster service.

With loyalty cards, patrons can also collect points, get discounts and enjoy every game even more. Offering competitive prices while maintaining profitability helps in re-engaging customers and fostering loyalty.

5. Streamlined Operations and Workflow

Redesign operational workflows to accommodate in-seat orders seamlessly. Optimizing kitchen processes, delivery routes, and staff training ensures prompt service and minimizes delays.

6. Feedback Loop and Adaptation

Implement mechanisms for receiving and acting upon customer feedback. Continuous improvements based on user input help refine the ordering process, enhancing overall satisfaction.

7. Hygiene and Safety Protocols

Emphasize hygiene standards in ordering and food handling. Assure patrons of stringent safety measures to instill confidence in the system.

8. Personalization and Loyalty Programs

Employ data-driven insights to personalize recommendations and offerings based on customer preferences. Loyalty programs can incentivize repeat orders and foster customer retention.

9. User-Friendly Interfaces and Support

Prioritize user experience by ensuring intuitive interfaces for easy navigation. Offer robust customer support to troubleshoot any issues and guide patrons through the ordering process.

10. Educating Staff and Patrons

Provide comprehensive training to staff regarding the new systems and emphasize the benefits to patrons. Educated staff can guide and assist patrons in navigating the ordering process smoothly.

11. Sustainable Practices

Embrace environmentally friendly practices where possible, such as reducing paper waste by digitizing menus and recipes.

By integrating these strategies, venues and food service vendors can successfully implement in-seat and contactless ordering systems, catering to the changing preferences of patrons while ensuring operational efficiency and safety.

The Path Forward: Navigating Uncertainty

As the event landscape continues to evolve, uncertainty looms, particularly in regions with differing approaches to venue occupancy. While some areas progress towards welcoming full-capacity events in 2022 and 2023, others exercised caution.

Canadian venues, in particular, face challenges in opening to full capacity, compelling vendors to explore alternative strategies such as in-seat delivery to engage with fans. In contrast, American venues forge ahead, urging food service vendors to upgrade systems to ensure seamless operations at near-maximum occupancy.

Conclusion: A New Era of Event Experiences

The convergence of in-seat and contactless ordering systems has reshaped the way patrons engage with concessions at live events. It's not merely a technological advancement but a paradigm shift in how venues cater to consumer preferences, emphasizing safety, convenience, and an immersive event experience.

As the event industry navigates uncertainties, integrating robust systems, using new technologies, and adapting services will define the future success of food service vendors in delivering exceptional experiences to patrons in the post-pandemic era.

Frequently Asked Questions

How much could integrating contactless ordering with the ticket purchase increase food and beverage sales?

The percentage attributed to pre-orders will depend on the amount of communication and marketing a venue or event organizer does per event. It is not enough to add contactless ordering to the ticket purchase flow; patrons need to be made aware of it and the benefits it offers. 

Still, assuming a 10-30% will convert on upsells of food and beverage during ticket purchase is dependent on the upsell product value and marketing promotions applied. But increasing options and making it easier for patrons to order should increase the size of food and beverage spend.

How long would it take for a ticketing platform to get up and running with contactless ordering?

Depending on the delivery service provider chosen, it's tentatively possible to complete the integration in 6-8 weeks. 

This type of integration involves many moving parts, including:

  • Integration with the digital order provider’s API/SDK
  • Mobile app flow changes (i.e., showing a menu, selecting food, managing the shopping cart, delivery time, etc.)
  • Notification implementation
  • Building/updating any reporting capabilities
  • Invoicing changes
  • And much more

This estimate can also be affected by whether the delivery service provider is integrated with the food vendor you use or wish to use, menu setup, kitchen integrations, and other factors. If you'd like a more specific estimate, contact us to arrange a consultation.

Can contactless ordering work for a smaller venue? 

The short answer is yes. The longer answer is that safety is a primary concern for patrons, operators, and event staff. Contactless ordering has become a consumer expectation in many industries, and it behooves venues to consider this technology to ensure minimal physical distancing during COVID and meet patron demand in the future. 


1Oracle. (2019, May 31). Survey: Sports Fans Call Foul on Long Concession Wait Times at Stadiums.

2Appetize and SurveyMonkey. (2020, November 18). Appetize Contactless Survey Reveals Customer Trends and Preferences.

3Morgan, C. (2019, August 02). 17 sneaky ways movie theaters get you to spend more money.

4Stoll, J. (2021, January 13). Likelihood of buying concessions at movie theaters in the U.S. 2018.

5Appetize and SurveyMonkey. (2020, November 18). Appetize Contactless Survey Reveals Customer Trends and Preferences.

6Oracle. (2019, May 31). Survey: Sports Fans Call Foul on Long Concession Wait Times at Stadiums.