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The baseball playoffs started up this week and will continue through the end of October. With most of the teams playing to sellout crowds, ballpark beer salesmen will be out in full force. What’s it like to be a beer vendor?
It’s hard work. Beer vendors typically lug around two cases of beer at a time—that’s almost 50 bottles or cans—for the better part of each game. (As a general rule, you can’t sell alcohol past the seventh inning of a baseball game, the second period of a hockey game, or the third quarter of a football or basketball game.) What does a vendor take home after several hours of hauling and yelling? A top-flight concessionaire might make $200 or $300 before tips. Full-timers—who work multiple sports or different venues—can take home more than $40,000 a year.
Most vendors have to get to the ballpark about an hour before game time. The stadium typically has a locker room where they can change into uniforms and a commissary where they pick up supplies. Before the game starts, the general manager for concessions assigns a food item to each vendor. Some hawkers can count on selling the same thing every night—those with seniority or better sales records often get to choose their product and where in the stadium they’re going to sell it.
Sellers get paid on commission, so expensive items that sell in high volume (i.e., beer) are the most coveted. On game day, each vendor buys a lot of their assigned product at the commissary; any beers that get stolen, lost, or given away as freebies come out of his pocket. After work, the cashier at the commissary pays him a certain sum for each beer (or other food item) sold. Commissions range from about 7 percent to 19 percent—up to $1.14 on a $6 beer. In some ballparks, commissions increase as a vendor meets sales goals.
In general, the best and the most-senior vendors choose to sell beer, while the rookies handle hot dogs and peanuts. To sell beer, you have to be 21 years old, and you’re supposed to undergo special training. ARAMARK, which manages concessions for 11 teams (including the Angels, Astros, Red Sox, and Braves), requires that all beer vendors study how to identify and deal with drunken fans.
Location also makes a difference in meeting your sales goals. Folks in the cheap seats tend to buy in bulk but give less in tips. If the sales manager doesn’t assign areas of the stadium, vendors work out informal systems to divvy up the sections based on seniority. Some types of events are more vendor-friendly than others. Concessionaires say that football fans buy more beer than baseball fans, but baseball fans buy more food overall.
The concessions manager compiles sales rankings on a regular basis. Rankings are used to determine commissions and assignments, but top sellers can also get special honors. The hot-dog supplier might give an award to the No. 1 dog vendor, for instance. When baseball’s All-Star Game is played in an ARAMARK-managed stadium, the company selects “all-star vendors” from each of its operations and flies them out.
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Explainer thanks David Freireich of ARAMARK and former Fenway Park vendor Dave “Crunch ‘n Munch Guy” Kerpen. Also, thanks to reader Keith Tokoly for asking the question.