It is no secret that attendances have grown over the last 12 months at Moss Lane. Our average attendance last season topped 2,000 for the first time since the 1960's and it is fantastic that we are enjoying a period of great backing from the Robins faithful.
The club, however, also recognise that to maintain higher numbers we need to ensure the match day experience is an enjoyable one. And, whilst initiatives such as the family day towards the end of last season, including a DJ in the CSH, and last week's live music pre-match will hopefully become a more regular feature, we also know that we've got to get the basics right.
We've had a lot of feedback following last Saturday's game around the queues to get a drink before kick-off and, most notably, at half time. As many have pointed out, it's frustrating having to miss parts of the game, but also the club are potentially missing out on revenue if supporters decide against a purchase because of the queue.
Our catering and hospitality management teams debrief following each event, whether football or other, and this was no different this week. We felt now was a good time to give some insight into planning for a match day, obvious issues last week, and what measures we can reasonably put in place to provide a better experience at upcoming fixtures.
How do we plan for a match day in terms of catering and hospitality?
One of the most important factors that will guide our planning for a fixture is expected crowd. This allows us to make decision in terms of food for the kiosks, stock for the bar, and the number of staff required. We leave these decisions as late as possible whilst monitoring advance ticket sales, an update from the away team on their expected numbers and allowing for the fairly stable percentage of walk-up, pay on the gate, supporters.
What happened last Saturday? (Altrincham v Aldershot)
Advance ticket sales were still quite low when management had their match day operational planning call midweek.
By midday last Friday, the assumption was for a crowd of around 1,400 max.
Late Saturday morning our head of events was informed that two members of bar staff that were allocated to work had called in sick. Bar staff are utilised for 5 hours each match day (1pm to 6pm) and this is the minimum shift we can offer to ensure staff are happy to work for us on the day.
From 1pm there was a surge on e-tickets, and walk-ups before kick-off were higher than previous International weekends with no Premier League. Whilst it was great in one sense, it did put extra strain on the bar staff, especially at half time.
Had we had the two extra staff members on Saturday there would still have been queues at busy periods, but they would have been shorter.
Why can't we have additional staff at half time?
As above, we have to offer staff a minimum of 5 hours work, so it is important to strike the balance between revenue and cost. The reality is that the bar is really busy from 2:30pm until kick off, and then around 3:40pm and 4:05pm, yet we would still need to commit to paying staff for the quieter periods.
What are the plans for the next home game?
We are looking at ways at utilising the staff members in different areas to review the viability of an increased workforce. Dorking at home on a Saturday and Oldham at home on a Tuesday will give us an opportunity to offer a bottle bar again in the community sports hall. At half time the bottle bar will require two members of staff for it to be efficient; one to supply the drinks, one to take payment.
Is a permanent bottle bar viable financially?
This remains to be seen. We were lucky enough last season to get voluntary support on a match day for some of the games where we had a bottle bar. We'll use these next two, maybe three fixtures to promote the secondary bar option and analyse the success. We'll also make sure the decision isn't just based on revenue, we'll assess feedback from supporters and staff, and the visible impact it has on queues.
What other initiatives can we implement?
There have been many sensible ideas put forward across digital channels; pre-purchase, vouchers, additional bars, separate queues for best-selling drinks. All of these are under discussion by the events team and we will announce any changes in due course.
We appreciate supporters won't always know their plans and whether they'll attend fixtures, but purchasing tickets in advance is a huge help in terms of allowing us to plan accordingly, therefore much of our marketing for each fixture is focused on that at the minute.