Why Concessions Aboard The Steamship Remain Inconsistent

Jason Graziadei •

Hazlegrove 1821

Concessions aboard the Steamship Authority ferries - especially the slow boats - have been intermittent at best since the pandemic, with passengers left to bring their own food onto the vessels, or be left with the choices inside the vending machine.

What’s causing the continued disruption?

The company which holds the contract to provide concession services on the Steamship Authority’s ferries and in its terminals - Centerplate - is facing the same challenges that many in the restaurant industry have struggled with: staffing and housing.

Last week, Centerplate’s general manager posted a message in an island Facebook group looking for housing for her staff: “The rent is company paid. With that said if I can find housing, we would be able to cover all the SSA ferry runs to and from the island.”

While a Centerplate representative did not return a phone call seeking comment, Steamship Authority communications director Sean Driscoll provided some additional context about the situation.

“Centerplate had similar challenges to many other service industries this year in being able to staff concessions sales on board our vessels and at our terminals,” Driscoll said. “They worked hard to staff up throughout the year, but challenges remain, and I know they’re working hard to make improvements headed into 2023.”

Driscoll said he did not have the number of trips that went un-staffed by Centerplate this year.

The Steamship’s contract with Centerplate - which was signed in December 2017 and runs through December 31, 2023 - requires the company to pay the Steamship a percentage of its sales and includes a “minimum guarantee” that must be paid to the Steamship each year.

Amid the pandemic, that minimum guarantee was waived in 2020 and 2021, but Centerplate is on the hook it for it this year, and is required to pay the Steamship at least $740,000.

The sales percentage breaks down as follows:

  • Food and nonalcoholic beverages: 16%
  • Alcoholic beverages: 22.5%
  • Vending: 20%
  • General merchandise: 20%

Centerplate, a large food and beverage corporation that provides concession and hospitality services at sports, convention and entertainment venues, was acquired in 2017 by the French firm Sodexo, the world’s second-largest catering company.

Driscoll said the Steamship has not yet started looking at the structure of the contract to determine if changes are needed, but said that will likely happen later in 2023 as the Authority prepares to issue a new request for proposals for the next concession contract.

Typically, however, Centerplate has been the only bidder on the RFP the Steamship has put out for the service.

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