June 14th, 2024

How to save on food and drinks at your next sports game or concert

By Tara Deschamps, The Canadian Press on May 30, 2024.

With foot-long hotdogs roughly $13 and 515-mL premium draft beers nearing $15, it can be expensive to dine at the Rogers Centre, but many Canadians have found ways to save on food at the Toronto venue, including sharing popcorn amongst friends or attending on days when hot dogs are sold for a loonie. Fans line up for food during the Toronto Blue Jays home opener on Friday, April 8, 2022. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Christopher Katsarov

When Dianne Debarros and Tom Stitzel headed to a Toronto Blue Jays game last month, the couple figured dining at the Rogers Centre would not be cheap.

With foot-long hotdogs roughly $13 and 515-ml premium draft beers nearing $15, the Sarnia, Ont., duo behind the @coupon.couple account started searching for ways to save.

One of their pals had two words: Dugout Deals.

Theaptly-named concession stand by sections 240 and 537sells ballpark favourites for a fraction of the price.Before tax, “value” hotdogs, popcorn and 16-ounce soft drinks go for $3.49 each, while a 12-oz. Bud Light is $5.79, the Blue Jays website says.

“If you got a hotdog and just a pop, it would be, like, under $7,” said Debarros. “That’s awesome compared to $30 at some of the other stands.”

Researching like Debarros did is just one of the ways she and other sports lovers, festival attendees and concert goers say Canadians can save as the summer event season ramps up and people start to be confronted with eye-popping prices.

AtVenu, a point-of-sale technology company, said the average fan in Canada and the U.S. spent US$68 on food and beverages at festivals last year, up from US$65 in 2022.The firm found prices for food items jumped 21 per cent on average, and drinks spiked by between seven and 20 per cent, depending on their format and alcohol content.

But many eventgoers say there are ways to reduce costs.

For starters, some venues, including the Rogers Centre, let you bring in food and drinks, though they often must be non-alcoholic and packaged in something other than glass or metal.

“Some will let you bring water as long as you have it in a bottle with a sealed cap, so I try to take advantage of those little loopholes,” said Jordann Kaye, a Halifax-based personal finance writer.

Many venues also allow people through security with clear and empty bottles that can be refilled for free at on-site water fountains.

If you are looking to purchase food or drinks at a venue, Kaye recommends looking closely at prices.

“Draft beer tends to be less expensive than, say, mixed drinks or trying to get red or white wine, but not by a lot. It’s quite expensive,” she said.

“I usually go for beer because it’s more filling and it takes me longer to drink it, so I end up buying less.”

Ordering from stands at a stadium can also save you cash because some venues charge more for in-seat service and many tip drink sellers who roam the aisles with packed coolers, Kaye said.

Promotions can also be a way to save.

Rogers Centre, for example, sells $1 hotdogs some nights and the B.C. Lions football team ran a $5 menu of beers, nachos, popcorn and hotdogs last season.

At the Scotiabank Saddledome, where the Calgary Flames hockey team plays, there was a happy hour last season that started one-and-a-half hours before game time and ended 30 minutes before puck drop. During that time, the team’s website says it sold 14-oz. draft, 1-oz. highball and 6-oz. wine, cheeseburgers, pizza slices and hotdogs for $6 each.

If your venue has no promotions, Debarros suggests people consider “bottomless” or refillable drinks or popcorn that can be shared among friends or family and refilled frequently to satisfy everyone.

To keep costs down, Kaye recommends people consider what they might want to eat or drink before heading to an event.

“Then, you’re not struck by all of the options once you’re up at the counter and it’s usually very busy, so you feel compelled to quickly order and you might end up spending more money than you intend to,” she said.

To avoid feeling enticed into spending when she didn’t plan to, she has a meal before going to any event, even if it means eating at an inconvenient time.

“Snacks don’t look as appealing if you’re already full,” she reasons.

If she’s driving to an event, she also stashes snacks like granola bars in her vehicle to cope with post-show or game munchies to avoid splurging on the way home.

To budget for those munchies and any instances when she’ll eat at a venue, she looks at her calendar every month and takes note of events coming soon.

Then, she asks herself whether she will purchase food at the event or grab a meal or drink with friends before or after. If she is planning to dine out, she builds that into her entertainment budget.

“If you regularly meet friends for drinks after work, maybe skip that for a week or two, so you have some extra cash to put toward these events that are memorable,” Kaye said.

“Then, you’re able to just enjoy them without being racked with guilt because you’re spending more than you intended to.”

– with files from John Chidley-Hill in Toronto

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 30, 2024.

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