The guy who runs food and drink operations for San Francisco Giants home games wants the team’s fans to know something about last weekend’s series against the Oakland A’s.
“We didn’t run out of Sheboygan bratwurst. We weren’t able to get supplied in the first place,” says Bill Greathouse, vice president at Oracle Park for Bon Appetit Management Corp., a restaurant service company based in Redwood City.
The explanation, however, is likely of little comfort to those who went back to their seats disappointed.
Of course, the concessions situation at Giants games goes beyond the bratwurst. Like many reopening businesses, vendors at Oracle Park are dealing with frustrating obstacles in finding workers and coping with supply chain issues. The result is impacting customers who are experiencing longer lines and reduced choices at the ballgame. It’s a problem in search of solutions. And it may not be sorted out for a while.
The team’s sausage supplier, Wisconsin-based Johnsonville, isn’t the only food and beverage giant having trouble fulfilling promised orders for some fan favorites, according to Greathouse, who has worked in ballpark food and drink concessions since 1975.
Anheuser-Busch, Miller Coors and Kraft Heinz also are grappling with production or transportation bottlenecks as the economy reopens after a 15-month pandemic slowdown.
During a prior homestand, the stadium had no Coors Lite — even though it’s Oracle Park’s top-selling beer, he says.
“We can’t even get packets of ketchup for our garlic fries,” says Greathouse of the recent shortage that had people selling old packets online.
Worse still, the shortage of supply isn’t the only thing hurting service at the park this year. Bon Appetit is also having trouble finding enough workers to fully staff the park.
A Giants spokesperson confirmed to The Examiner that, “Like most businesses ramping up, staffing has been an issue. Also introducing and educating our fans to adopt mobile ordering for more efficient and faster service continues to ramp up. Bon Appetit continues to hire and train as quickly as possible and we’re working closely with them to do everything possible to help mitigate the situation.”
Not enough workers
Whereas many food and beer stands might require 12 to 15 workers to be fully staffed, right now they have between 10 and 12, he says.
“We’re about 85 percent open…we’re missing some bodies,” Greathouse says.
The shortage has become such an issue that the company met this week with union leaders of Unite Here Local 2, which represents restaurant and hotel workers.
The meeting was arranged in the hope that workers at some hotels that have yet to reopen would want to come work at Oracle Park.
The company is also working with temporary staffing agencies to help find workers.
“What’s obviously different this season is that it’s harder to get workers on the job,” says Greathouse.
It’s easy to score political points by blaming the shortage on the extension of unemployment benefits in California, but he believes other reasons are at play.
People who want to go back to work have to provide proof of vaccination or a near-term, negative COVID test result — a hurdle that may discourage some.
And many who believe the pandemic is still a threat to their health aren’t ready to go to work among tens of thousands of fans. The Giants reopened all sections of the stadium in mid-June after city and state health officials agreed to lift restrictions on large outdoor gatherings.
All three games of the A’s series drew more than 30,000 fans, a sharp increase from the season’s average crowd size, which as of this week is still less than 12,000.
The great ‘shock’ of 2020
The difficulties come after a period that completely upended American businesses, including those who run ballpark concessions.
Bon Appetit has run the Giants’ premium eateries, including the Public House, Gotham Club and service to the Field, Suite and Club Levels, since the team opened the stadium in 2000. In 2018, it became the exclusive provider of all concession service at the stadium.
Still, all that experience didn’t prepare the company, founded in San Francisco in 1987, for the pandemic.
“What a shock!” says Greathouse, who began as a trainee in the old Three Rivers Stadium, former home of the Pittsburgh Pirates.
The company was fully staffed and fully stocked, “then suddenly we went from serving 35,000 people a game to 250” staff and media, as Major League Baseball replaced live fans with cardboard cutouts.
Confusing and sometimes conflicting directives from state and city health officials affected even small details of ballpark service into the start of this season, including whether Giants fans could be served garlic fries in a miniature plastic batting helmet.
“It was frustrating,” as the restrictions “seemed to change every day,” says Greathouse.
Short of ‘many things’
Greathouse is optimistic things will get back to normal eventually and says there’s no shortage of the most popular items, including hot dogs, chicken tenders, pizza and hamburgers. He’s excited about the new Coors Lite Bar that will open under the center field scoreboard during the next home stand, which begins July 5 — joining another center-field bar opened by Sierra Nevada last week.
The stadium has brought back the crab sandwich and is working on doing the same for carved meats and other “signature items.”
Still, he doubts that “normal” will return until next season and predicts shortages will persist for months.
The day before he spoke to the Examiner, Greathouse got more bad news.
“I found out we’re going to be short on peanuts for the next home stand. We’re short of many things.”
As for the bratwurst shortage, Johnsonville is supplying a replacement product until mid-July.
Still, the guy who ordered them worries that discriminating sausage fans will notice a difference: “They’re good bratwursts, but they’re not Sheboygans.”