Food Trends for 2021: More variety, food “experiences,” and the chicken tender champion
Guest Feature: Shane Boylan
The food and beverage industry may have been the most prepared to go back to live events, but that doesn’t mean those working in the industry aren’t making changes as they prepare for the 2021 festival season. In fact, they are always making changes, keeping up with the hottest trends in food products, service, and experiences, all while vigilantly following stringent health and safety guidelines.
Shane Boylan, a seasoned pro in the live event hospitality world, gave us some valuable insights into our favorite part of any event - the food and the beverages. Shane spent 12 years working his way up the ladder at National Concessionaire, serving as Director of Operations before he became Director of Food and Beverage for Live Nation. In early 2021 he decided to venture out on his own and start Event Hospitality Solutions, with the goal of using his unique experience working on both the concessionaire and the promoter side to remove the friction between the two with a focus on hospitality at festivals and venues.
We all know that food and beverage is an important part of every event (for some of us, it’s the best part). It’s an added revenue generator for promoters, in many cases, an attraction in-and-of-itself for attendees, and of course fuel for staff, talent, and volunteers. Seems like a no-brainer. Of course, like many things in event production, good food and beverage requires a lot of planning, experience, and hard work. Shane walks us through it:
Shane and his team are working diligently with the city and local municipalities and their respective health departments to make sure they are complying with everyone’s rules. For most, the rules haven’t changed much. Health departments were already pretty tough with concessionaires, with strict rules in place and frequent checks before and during events. They want to avoid the spread of disease in general, not just COVID.
Each event and each jurisdiction is different and rules are constantly evolving. Shane’s been asked to wear a mask, a face shield, and gloves at one event and all vendors had to have plexiglass on their booths.
He is seeing more of a move to have more ready-to-drink (RTD) or individual consumption options such as canned beverages as they have less cross-contamination risks. For those guests who prefer mixed drinks, there are safe ways to make them, but it may require more people and more costs. And those infamous large refillable mugs we all know and love at country music festivals may be a thing of the past - still TBD. (More on sustainability efforts below.)
Planning where bars go, how big each one is, and which food vendors are next to others is Shane’s favorite part. It’s a giant puzzle and requires him to think about the flow of the venue and the programming on the stages. He tries to place cool experiences (like whisky tastings) away from the stage(s) as they tend to serve as anchors, drawing guests to areas that may not normally be busy. Guests can be at an event for 10-12 hours and don’t always want to be in crowded areas, food and beverage booths can be a great way to spread them out.
More and more events have been offering reusable cups in an effort to go green, but not all health departments have been on board - especially now. Shane built out a standard operating prodecure around reusable cup refills to make sure he and his team are operating safely. The SOP requires more handwashing and reducing touchpoints by only touching the bottom of the cup and not touching the cup to the spigot. Eventually, he hopes to get back to using it, but he sees it as a struggle out of the gate this year.
Another option he pitched was to pay a deposit and get a refillable cup. When it is time for a refill, that cup goes into a wash bin, and the guest gets a new, clean, refillable cup to use. At the end of the event, the guest can either keep the cup or return it and get their deposit back.
Unfortunately, this is just one example of the hurdles events face around sustainability. Another very large barrier is cost. It’s expensive to go green and most promoters aren’t throwing their hands in the air to cover the added costs. Should they be passed on to the guest? Covered by the concessionaire? Shared amongst everyone?
Chicken tenders remain the most popular food item at a festival, but guests are demanding other options more than ever before. Sure, most also have pizza, BBQ, Asian, and various desserts, but that’s not enough. Guests want food and beverage choices that showcase the local flavor, they want healthy, gluten-free, and vegan choices (this was even true at Sturgis!), they want trendy, Instagrammable food to give their followers FOMO. And they don’t want to wait in 5 different lines to get it. Therefore, it’s not just important to keep up with the latest food fads, but it’s also important to encourage vendors to have multiple options at their stands to make the overall food experience better for guests.
This year’s trend? Besides just getting out and enjoying yourself, food and beverage as an experience will continue to be hot this year. Whisky tastings, wine bars, craft beers, celebrity chefs. Events like Shane’s favorite, BottleRock, are literally putting food on the main stage and guests are… eating it up. We’ll also see more mobile ordering as challenges with awareness, technology, speed of service, and age verification (for alcohol orders) are worked out.
For the White Claw fans, Shane tells us that the canned malt beverage craze is still going strong and we’ll see many different brands on the festival circuit this year.
He’s spent the first part of 2021 working with other concessionaires at events such as golf tournaments and is excited for festival season to get going so he can get to work! You’ll see him at Country Jam Colorado, Upheaval, and Breakaway this summer - make sure to say hi!
Shane’s 3 pieces of advice:
The food booth with the longest line is probably the best one.
Download the app so you can mobile order when you get to the event.
VIP is worth it. Every time.