Legends food service at Live Nation Amphitheaters includes wine by the bottle, a perk usually missing entertainment venues.

Serving gourmet burgers at an amphitheater and even going so far as to envision an amphitheater as a dining destination is working for Legends and Live Nation.

Tom See, chief revenue office — concerts for Live Nation, said a big part of what is working is “giving the venue more of a voice,” explaining that there is an area of opportunity to improve the fan experience, including dining, with communication outreach like the Concert Concierge, an alert sent to ticketbuyers a week out advising them of options when they get to the venue. 

He also said 2017 would see an uptick in use of the Live Nation app as an in-venue app when the fan walks through the gates day of show. He related his experience watching a fan last season ask an ambassador where he could find the Guy Fieri burger, which he’d learned about on his phone, and then following him to see that he actually made the purchase. It’s baby steps, but they are learning more about the fan.

Sometimes fan communication is low tech, but the Legends Ambassadors at Live Nation sheds help tie it all together.

The goal is to improve the customer experience and the bottom line for live entertainment.

Legends secured the food and beverage and merchandise contract for 35 Live Nation sheds just prior to the 2015 season kickoff, recalled Legends’ Michael Bekolay. In 2017, they will handle food service in 38 Live Nation sheds. Among the newest is Ford Amphitheater at Coney Island, Brooklyn, which features another new twist, a standalone, year-round restaurant.

Legends and Live Nation have come a long way since that initial startup season two years ago this month when the priority was hiring 30 managers, transitioning 10,000 employees and assuring no one’s holiday was ruined because they feared for their job, Bekolay recalled.

Now the 2017 season is just around the corner, with the Florida sheds opening in January and February an ideation is underway.

“Traditionally, amphitheaters don’t sell a lot of food. We’re trying to change that culture and let people know they can come to the amphitheater and enjoy a nice dining experience as well as a show,” Bekolay said.

Guy Fieri is one of Legends’ partners. “We introduced Guy’s Burger Joint in some of our amphitheaters in a limited number of venues and had huge success last year,” said Legends' Dan Smith. “Guy has become a staple.”

The first year, there were eight Guy’s Joints, serving fresh ground burger with ingredients superior to anything fans had been offered at a shed show before. “People were willing to buy up to it,” Smith said.

In January of 2016, Legends kicked up the venue offerings with its chefs program. It has been an exploratory process, but results are promising.

“From 2015 to 2016, we saw an increase of 15-percent increase in per capita spending,” Bekolay said.

“We’re always looking to deliver a value proposition,” Smith said of Legends’ philosophy. “Rather than take three nachos out, we add to it and raise the price just this much. Our food cost percentage is higher but, at end of day, there is more gross profit.”

The idea of a $13-$14 burger at an amphitheater was scary where a $6 burger was more the tradition. “But now, it’s  a restaurant quality burger, fresh bun, with a fork stuck in the middle of it, and they line up to get it. People will pay for quality if it’s there. If there is no value, there is no margin,” Smith said.

Legends and Live Nation also introduced two new ultra lounges last July, The Room sponsored by Cadillac at Nikon at Jones Beach, Wantagh, N.Y., and The Dominion at Jiffy Lube Live, Bristow, Va. See is looking forward to a full season of the ultra lounge experiences in 2017.

The goal was to “provide fans an opportunity to purchase an all-inclusive experience — preferred parking, awesome seats and access to this ultra lounge where they would get food and dining credit,” See said. They worked with a celebrity chef and catered to 100-150 people per evening. Besides making it upscale and personalized, the experience had to be flexible, reflecting the type of fan for the night’s music.

“We’re in discussions about other interesting products we can put into the amphitheater experience at different scales. There are fans and groups out there looking for more personalized, elevated experiences,” See said.

“The traditional concert experience is buy a ticket, come to the venue. We haven’t done anything beyond that. We haven’t made it easy for a bachelorette party to buy 30 great tickets and have an awesome experience inside the venues.” Live Nation has an eye on catering to groups,  much like sports teams can do, but with the caveat, the content is more diverse than found in an arena.

Barriers include knowing who wants to purchase these types of experiences, developing them and creating that experience. “It requires pivoting a little and trying to figure out how that works. We have inventory and opportunity to create packages,” See said. “You have to challenge the status quo at some point. It’s a subset of the overall business that we should be catering to.”

The larger subset, where Legends really gets involved, is knowing the fans, See continued. “In our experience, versus the sports world, Thursday night is different from Friday. It’s Zac Brown Band versus Korn. The audience is different.”

The challenge is to become flexible against the crowd and anticipate the food and beverage needs of the fan. To that end, they want to be able to change out the food mix as well as the drink mix. Why, when you know the Dixie Chicks fan base wants wine would you not offer more wine and more locations so when the show opens, fans don’t abandon the buy because of long lines?

See sees that the consumer is evolving and wants a higher-end experience. “This is your date night, friend night – money becomes less of the object when you are in an experience you really want to be in.”

Wine is a big factor. “When I first came here, it was hard to find wine sold by the bottle in many venues,” See said. Legends and Live Nation has since instituted a formal wine program, even Dom Perignon on the bubbly side, and have seen an 80-percent increase in wine sales.

They offer bottles of wine (poured into a carafe at sale) at the grab-and-go Fresh Market locations and at portable and permanent concession stands. They customize the choices to the location.

The next hurdle is educating the crowds that an amphitheater is a food destination, thus the Concert Concierge and Live Nation app approach..

The Achilles heel?  The venues are only open 30-35 days a year in some instances, See admitted. “How do you strategically make this work for both sides and provide a great fan experience. We’re in great conversations with Legends. If we can get that changing fan there earlier, everyone wins.”

“We have to figure out where that sweet spot is. I believe there is a market for it. Who is it?”

Such high goals include infrastructure improvements of the permanent/temporary variety. The Room and The Dominion were not a cheap date, See said. Live Nation partnered with Crate & Barrel on some of the VIP clubs to come in and décor them.

And the Guy Fieri burger can’t handle the demand at some shows because it’s usually not a big enough location. Speed of trade is a problem. “We’re not built for scale yet. Even if you flipped the model and put more windows out, you might win, but we don’t know what we don’t know yet,” See said.

Cousins Maine Lobster is a partner in Dallas and does incredibly well, he said. “Do they want to scale with us into other venues? Table 87 Pizza is at our venue in Coney Island; are they interested in scaling with us?” It has to be the right fit, show by show, venue by venue. “How do we carry on that conversation?” he wondered.

Interviewed for this story: Michael Bekolay, (817) 892-4575; Dan Smith, (973) 707-2801; Tom See, ThomasSee@LiveNation.com