Mr. Grumpy Unloads
It's time to take off the kid gloves. The Nats and their concessions management have done a poor job of planning for the fan, and planning is one of the few things that they've had time to do. There are bound to be glitches in any new operation on the scale of Nats Park, but design mistakes and failure to stockpile ballpark staples are unforgivable.
First things first:
I thought that my "grumpy Nats fan" schtick was just an online persona - you know, honest in my criticism, but all in good fun, giving voice to common fan complaints. Now, I know that I'm just one p*ssed-off fan. And it's not tied to a losing streak, or the team's on-field performance [thanks, Tim Redding!]. It's the fan experience.
I attended Friday night's game, and yesterday's Wintry Extravaganza. Thanks to a generous friend, I walked away from Friday night pleased with the comfort of some prime seats in Section 211, and wowed by the baseball experience available to the higher rollers. As always in the park's short history, the friendliness of the staff was evident at every turn.
But I did note that the popcorn machines at the first two vendor stands offering the stuff were broken, and I was surprised that not a single vendor with proud signs selling vegetarian dogs and burgers had any for sale. It seemed odd, and kinda silly, that the Nats would go to the trouble of publicly offering some variety without carrying through.
Sunday showed me that there are some real problems, and that they run deep. How in the #$%@^@ can two separate concession stands tell people "we've got those fully-loaded [whatevers], but we don't have any mustard"? Some condiment areas also were plumb out of that delicious yellow opiate. No mustard at a BALLGAME? I saw quite a few really unhappy fans over near Ben's when they realized that they'd have to go on a search to complete their dogs.
I tried to carefully survey the concession sales (all for you, our devoted readers!), and I saw a lot of frustration. Having a bottleneck at every grill, where one employee took an order, and then prepared each individual burger or specialty dog, seemed insane, and led me to realize that someone hadn't been thinking when they designed and staffed those stands. Even a friendly staff can't ultimately satisfy a long line of people who plunked down a lot of money to see a game, and are instead watching it on TV screens waiting in line.
The poor planning didn't end there, though; countless fans waited for up to 10 minutes, only to *then* be told that their items were unavailable. Or to learn that the hot-chocolate maker was broken. On the 200-level concourse by the Scoreboard Pavilion, the first three stands that advertised hot chocolate all had broken machines. Did the Nats intentionally buy broken machines, or did they just rely on eBay to get them from Forbes Field? Did they fail to read the Post's weather report, thinking it would be 80 degrees out, and no one would want hot chocolate? Did they think at all?
I also broke down and decided that my husky [read: "fat"] self could afford to eat a veggie . . . something. After promising that they had veggie burgers (they had no veggie dogs; silly me for asking), I finally got to the front and was told - by the same man who let me know that they were in stock - that I'd have to wait four minutes. I took a deep breath and said "fine," as he pulled a frozen slab of gray from a drawer. When he started to drop it into a deep fryer, I asked him to just throw it on the grill, telling him I'd wait even if it took longer. He then argued with me that they "had to" deep fry it. Well, that's when the dark clouds REALLY rolled over the Park.
I know, I know - waaaah waaaah waaaaah. It seems a minor thing, or a series of minor things. But I shelled out a lot of money to take a friend, and both of us missed long segments of on-field action waiting to be disappointed.
And Stan? I also kept in my pocket about fifty more bucks that I would have shelled over to the smiling attendants offering me food and drink, if only they'd had it. But never again; I'll bring in my own food and water, and pocket the money. At least I'll see the game.
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