The Coast News Group
Community Del Mar

KAABOO beverage servers contract decision delayed

DEL MAR — The controversy over food and beverage servers for KAABOO Del Mar will continue for at least another month after the 22nd District Agricultural Association at the Jan. 9 meeting tabled a contract decision until February.

Director Richard Valdez recommended delaying the discussion, primarily because Lisa Barkett, who chairs the food and beverage subcommittee, was out of town.

His colleagues agreed, noting the extra time would provide an opportunity to garner more information, including feedback about Premier Food Services’ performance during the Breeders’ Cup in November.

Premier has provided hospitality-related workers for events at the Del Mar Fairgrounds, where the three-day entertainment festival takes place in September, since 1990.

Its employees usually work the San Diego County Fair, summer and fall thoroughbred horse race meets and many private events. Last year they were hired for the Breeders’ Cup.

Premier was a co-concessionaire with Best Beverage Company during the inaugural KAABOO in 2015.

According to a presentation at the January meeting, communication between the two operators was problematic so KAABOO used Premier exclusively the following year.

Nathan Prenger, vice president of KAABOO operations, said there was a staffing shortfall, which resulted in long wait times, serving locations weren’t ready when the event opened, product was unsecured, there was a 2 percent post-event cash shortage and there were complaints about employees.

As a result, KAABOO, as it was contractually allowed to do, paid Premier a $150,000 buyout, issued a request for proposals and selected Spectrum Staffing Services.

However, Premier workers were given first rights for jobs and 185 of the 204 applicants were offered positions. Those who worked the event described myriad problems.

One bartender filed charges against a volunteer worker for assault. Others claimed the working conditions were filthy, some Spectrum employees pocketed cash and gave away drinks, workers disappeared for extended periods of time but still received an equal portion of the pooled tips, some customers were overserved and a few bars were set up in locations where there were few, if any, customers.

KAABOO denied most of the allegations, saying Spectrum is more experienced and better suited to meet its needs.

Spectrum clients include the PGA, the National Football League, Cirque de Soleil, Bonnaroo and Burning Man.

2017 beverage operations “with Spectrum in control, (were) more profitable and leaps ahead of previous years in terms of operational readiness, efficiency and guest experience,” according to the presentation.

Prenger said KAABOO is not anti-union — many Premier employees are represented by the San Diego County Hotel and Food Service Workers’ Local 30 — and problems were a result of “lack of preparation by the concessions management” and “not a negative reflection of the event staff.”

KAABOO submitted a letter seeking approval to use Spectrum for the 2018 and 2019 festivals. Fairgrounds General Manager Tim Fennell denied the request so the decision could be made by the board.

Last year the original contract was amended by Fennell without board approval to allow KAABOO to use a concessionaire other than Premier.

Director David Watson said he was “significantly surprised” to accidentally learn about the amendment, while Barkett voiced concerns about safety and possible criminal activity.

Prenger said there are plans to issue a request for proposals for concessionaires for catering and hospitality to serve staff and artists and work in VIP cabanas. He said Premier will have an opportunity to respond when that is released.

The board’s next meeting is scheduled to begin at 1:30 p.m. on Feb. 13.

1 comment

craig nelson January 21, 2018 at 7:00 pm

Dear 22nd Ag Board Members, January 21, 1018
A few recent articles have brought to my attention the fight over beverage servers at KAABOO. I have never written the 22nd Ag District before (no email, seriously? ) but I feel compelled to weigh in on this issue. I am probably one of few people who live within walking distance and earshot of the Fairgrounds, have attended all years of KAABOO and have been a member of the Turf Club.
I can say without a doubt that the beverage service, lines and attitude (of all employees) was the best it has ever been this past year. I was not aware at the time that Premier had been bought out and that a new vendor was brought in, but it did not surprise me to learn that after the fact.
The servers at the Fairgrounds for the horse races and other events (with a few exceptions) appear to be those rejected from the TSA/DMV, glacially slow and uninspired. This year’s KAABOO was a pleasant upgrade. What is extremely troubling (or should be to you) is how did the new vendor do so much better while using so many of the same employees? This is comparable to the Padres winning the World Series next year by hiring a new manager!
It also begs the question , why should Premier be paid $150,000 to go away? This does not reflect well on your duty as Board Members to manage this facility. Vendors should compete for the right to do good job, not be paid to get out of the way.
As a neighbor I thank you for all of the wonderful events at the Fairgrounds ( heck , I even thank you for the Fair as it reminds me to be more diligent in locking my house, car and not leave valuables in plain sight) . I wish there was an event at the fairgrounds every day. I think you need to do a better job at making these spots open to public bid and get rid of the good old boy network. Oh, and you should try this email thing, I hear it’s catching on.
Craig A. Nelson

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