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SELL ME SOME PEANUTS AND CRACKER JACK (AND BEER)
June 4th, 2015 by Clark Humphrey

safeco field sushi stand in 2001

Last season, the Seattle Mariners were playing for respect.

At the start of this season, some fans and observers thought the Ms would be playing for their first World Series rings. (Hasn’t turned out that way so far, alas.)

But this story is about some of the other teams that call Safeco Field and CenturyLink Field home.

Staging a Mariners game, Sounders FC soccer match, or other major sports event requires a small army of workers, from ushers and ticket takers to standby paramedics.

And among them are an unsung aspect of the teams’ charitable contributions.

This season, the teams and their concessionaires are working in conjunction with local charities including the Millionair Club to furnish overflow staffing in fiood service at the games. The concessionaires get extra hands; the workers, many of whom are long-term unemployed and underemployed, get hands-on experience in the industry.

As with the Millionair Club’s better known “day labor” program, all workers are interviewed and vetted before they’re sent out. The group helps them attain the needed food handling permits, and in some cases also state alcohol servers’ permits.

Despite common stereotypes about the jobless, these are diligent and ambitious men and women, striving to improve their lives.

More than one hundred of them (the number of workers invited depends on expected game attendance) waited patiently outside Safeco Field’s gates in the early morning of Opening Day. As instructed, they were clad in black shoes, black slacks, and black shirts.

Eventually, they were organized into lines, handed uniform shirs and hats, and sent through the gates onto the stadium grounds. Just beyond the gates, the workers stopped at a table where supervisors assigned them to their respective work stations and duties.

One group was sent to the opposite corner of the stadium, to a hot dog stand on the highest deck. While the concessionaires’ regular staffs had done a lot to prepare it and the other food/drink outlets for the new season, much remained in the last moments before the first fans streamed in. But with some applied “organized chaos,” all the menu items, trays, cups, and straws got to their proper spots. The new workers were quickly taught to operate the grills, the soft-serve machine, the beer taps, and the point of sale terminals.

By shortly after 11 a.m. the first customer had the first beer poured at that stand this season. Business gradually picked up as the sellout crowd continued to gather.

By the first pitch at 1 p.m., the joint was hopping. Beer taps that poured mostly foam at first now efficiently dispensed plastic cup after plastic cup of Coors product. The three varieties of hot dogs were sold as quickly as they could be cooked.

While the workers could neither see nor hear the game (the TV monitors on each side of the stand were, of course, pointed outward toward the customers), they heard, and sometimes joined in, major cheers that erupted whenever the Ms did something spectacular. With pitching ace Felix Hernandez leading the team to a 4-1 victory that day, such celebrations came frequently.

It should be mentioned that each of the food and beverage “stands” in each stadium is a fully equipped, permanently installed facility. Each has its own coolers, freezers, and cooking and cleaning equipment. The price of stadium food and drink isn’t just the result of exploiting a “captive market.” The concessionaire companies put a lot of investment into facilities that only earn income 81 days a year. (And that’s at the baseball stadium. The football/soccer stadium has even fewer event dates.)

While the concessionaires tried to anticipate opening-day demand, some of the beer kegs “blew” prior to the scheduled cutoff of alcohol sales at the end of the seventh inning. Supervisors scrambled to replace them, even for just a half hour’s worth of potential sales. That’s what you do when your sales day is so short. (Soccer matches, which run for less than two hours, have even shorter sales “windows.”)

Once the beer officially ceased flowing and the tap handles got put away, food sales also trickled off. The stand remained open until some time after the game’s end. Then came a furious hour of thorough cleaning, wiping, and product inventory. The regular staff and the charity “day workers” had worked as one team, and done it well.

By 5 p.m. the day workers had returned their uniforms and signed out. Only some of them would be needed at the next day’s game, for which far fewer tickets had been pre-sold. But all of them had gained work experience in a high-energy, high-volume, group effort.

Even if that effort was for nothing more significant than feeding some hungry baseball fans.

(Cross-posted with City Living Seattle.)


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