CERTAIN AURA: The new 310-seat Agave Club at Frost Bank Center, shown in this image, is the first Aramark account tied to Aura, the concessionaire’s new premium dining brand. (Courtesy vendor)

Aramark recognizes need to ‘up their game’ in premium

Aramark Sports and Entertainment announced this week that it’s branded its premium dining operation to Aura, tied to unveiling a new club at Frost Bank Center, home of the NBA’s San Antonio Spurs.

Aramark officials said the Aura rollout is tied to four pillars, starting with food. Stephen Starr, an award-winning chef and existing Aramark partner, will play a key role for the new program, meeting quarterly with company executives to develop new menu concepts.

In addition, beverage service will be elevated with new brand partnerships across beer, wine and mixed drink selections.

Plus, through Aramark’s existing collaboration with the Culinary Institute of America, officials will form a new training program to educate all front-of-house staff on the latest trends across high-end food and beverage operations.

A greater focus on facility design premium spaces is the final pillar under the Aura initiative.

It’s not the first time big league concessionaires have marketed a brand for their catering operations separate from general concessions.

About 20 years ago, Delaware North rolled out Well Bread, a rebrand of their premium food piece apart from Sportservice, the firm’s legacy concessions brand. Eventually, the Well Bread name disappeared for undisclosed reasons.

The same was true for Centerplate and Masterpiece Creations, with a few exceptions in the convention center space, as more food vendors spun off premium brands to keep pace with Levy in an effort to cut into their dominant market share with suite and club business.

Aramark’s deal comes on the heels of OVG Hospitality acquiring Rhubarb Hospitality Collection, a UK premium caterer, and positioning Rhubarb as a brand in taking over food service at Footprint Center in Phoenix, Arizona, home of the NBA Suns and WNBA Mercury.

Time will tell if both brands have staying power, according to food service consultants.

On its own, Aramark recognized the need to up their game to compete with “premium hospitality elites” Levy, Legends, Sodexo Live! and OVG Hospitality, said Luis Rivera, founder of First Star Solutions and a former Delaware North Executive.

“It’s worth noting that these pillars are not unique to Aramark; they’re the foundations of any outstanding food and beverage program,” Rivera said. “It’s an impressive concept, but it’s crucial to understand that launching a rebrand of this magnitude requires the commitment of everyone involved. I’m eagerly anticipating how Aura evolves and whether it lives up to expectations.”

Mike Plutino, founder and CEO of Food Service Matters, said Aramark may be trying to shift away from its reputation as a high-volume contract provider known for scale and resources. In today’s world, marketing a one-size fits all approach can put vendors at a competitive disadvantage when competing for new business.

“Clients want to hear what makes a provider different and how it can add value to their premium fan experience and bottom line, so the concept of offering a premium brand to a venue’s most valuable customers resonates with clients and could be the difference maker when choosing a new food and beverage partner,” Plutino said.

“It’s all marketing,” said veteran food consultant Chris Bigelow. “They’re sending managers to the Culinary Institute for training, though, and any additional education is a good thing.”