Ernest N. Morial Convention Center to get new food and beverage purveyor

June 30 2011 | Latest News
Thursday, June 30, 2011, 10:00 AM

Jaquetta White,  The Times-Picayune By Jaquetta White, The Times-Picayune The Times-Picayune

The governing board of the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center - New Orleans voted Wednesday to replace the facility's long-term food and beverage purveyor, Philadelphia-based Aramark, with a new company that vows to improve customer service and bring locally and regionally grown foods to the center.

Chris Granger/The Times-PicayuneJohn Vingas, left, senior vice president of Centerplate, hands a pen to Bob Johnson, right, president and general manager of the New Orleans Ernest N. Morial Convention Center, as they both sign a cake that had their new contract written in icing on top of it.

Centerplate, a Connecticut food and beverage service company, will take over concession services at the company July 16, after Aramark's contract expires.

The meeting hall decided to shop around for another provider last year as part of an effort to re-evaluate all of its service contracts, convention center General Manager Bob Johnson said. The center heard presentations from five prospective companies, including Aramark, before deciding to move forward with Centerplate.

According to its website, Centerplate provides food and beverage service at stadiums, arenas and meeting halls across the country, including the Louisiana Superdome, New Orleans Arena and convention centers in Dallas and New York.

"It was a natural fit for us and a phenomenal opportunity," said John Vingas, a senior vice president who oversees convention centers for Centerplate. "Seldom does one of the top convention centers in the country go out to bid in this fashion."

There will be few immediate differences in food offerings at the convention center as Centerplate establishes itself and considers the changes it would like to make, Johnson said.

But Vingas said visitors can eventually expect the selection to include locally and regionally produced foods as well as New Orleans-style food options. Centerplate will also expand the center's vegetarian and vegan offerings and partner with Laurel Street Bakery for baked goods, Vingas said.

Centerplate's contract with the center is for seven and a half years, but renewal is conditional each year depending on whether or not the company meets established requirements for providing customer service. According to the contract, Centerplate can lose a year on its contract when it is up for renewal at the end of a year-long period if ratings provided by convention center guests are not satisfactory. Likewise, the company can gain a year if its ratings exceed expectations.

Johnson said the center decided to structure the contract that way to ensure that Centerplate was motivated to provide good customer service and not just to meet its bottom line. The thinking is that good customer service inspires repeat visitation.

"The contract, I think, is a huge improvement over what we've done in the past," Johnson said. "I firmly believe that if these milestones are reached every year the finances will follow."

Although several senior level Aramark employees have left the convention center, Vingas said the company has retained the hourly employees, who make up the bulk of the company's staff. Their benefit, rates of pay and seniority levels will remain the same, Vingas said.

In 18 months, Centerplate will review the current union contract and will look to renegotiate it then for a three to five year term, Vingas said.