This is a conversation I have revisited time and time again while sitting at Fenway Park, and it has a lot more layers than you might expect. Here are several of the factors involved in no particular order:
Alcohol – This wins hands down. No contest; the demand for it dwarfs everything else. But it’s only sold at your seat in a select few locations, so it’s not really involved in the debate.
Weather – On a cold night in spring or fall the frozen lemonade guy gets destroyed by the hot chocolate and chowder vendors.
Weight – That pole of cotton candy looks significantly easier to carry than the giant tray full of Diet Cokes.
Assembly – Ever watch what they have to do in order to get a hot dog in your hands? Set down the huge metal box full of warm water (see above category Weight), grab one out with the tongs, pull a bun from the bag, put it all together in wax paper, dig up a mustard packet, etc. You can definitely distribute a lot more packages of crackerjacks in that same amount of time.
Flair – Not only do fans like a show, but they love to be involved as well. This gives the peanut guy who throws the bag at you from half a section away a huge competitive advantage over his peers.
Price – I’m not talking about how much the product costs, but rather the specific denomination. This is the real wild card here; probably one of the most influential factors, and one frequently overlooked. Having spent a long time working behind a bar, I can say without hesitation that the exact amount charged can have a huge impact on the tips you receive. I’ve got to assume $5 even is the worst price for a vendor, routinely leading to no tip. $4.75 probably gets you a quarter most of the time, but often only a quarter. $4 may get you a buck sometimes, but nothing other times. My guess is $4.25 is the best option, netting you 75 cents nearly every time. Even if the person buys two, you probably don’t do any worse than 50 cents.
Admittedly, these are just some theories of mine. I suppose I could interview a real life vendor and get all the answers, but wouldn’t that take the fun out of the discussion?
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