Aviation and the $6 Hot Dog

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One thing that's most noticeable in the current economy is that everything is negotiable. Customers can expect some wiggle room on prices from businesses they buy from, vendors selling to businesses are becoming ever eager to play let's make a deal. This is especially true in aviation, where many businesses are struggling mightily to keep the doors open. As the economy retracts, prices soften.

As the air show season gets fully underway, we will soon see if the organizers of these events have gotten that message, especially the food and catering vendors. One thing that frosts me about the big shows is that the cost of food at these events is nothing short of usurious. In flush times, I think most of us grin and bear it, but these aren't flush times and from my e-mail and conversations, irritation with what's seen as abuse of the show goers is likely to rise to the surface. So, will the vendors continue to squeeze us, or will they wise up and roll back prices to something reasonable?

I don't know enough about show economics and business plans to reveal the truth behind $6 hot dogs and $4 bottles of water. For reference, bottled water in a convenience store is under $2 and hot dogs are a third of what they are at a typical air show. Now I understand there's a cost related to setting up a temporary tent, staffing it and breaking it down after the show. But I fail to see why this requires a doubling (or more) of prices. Modify that: I fail to see why just because you've got a captive audience, you feel it to be good business practice to employ market-will-bear pricing on people who just want a nice outing for a day or two.

The aviation industry is flat on its butt. Many marginal participants are on the verge of abandoning it entirely and I wonder how many of them will have that switch flipped by the $40 lunch for four.

So, to the air show industry, this is the year you might want to think about carving the margin down in the food court. We're all trying to save the industry in any way we can, even to the extent of one $4 hot dog at a time.

Comments (18)

I own a hot dog stand...and charge $1.25 for ANY kind of a 'dog'...chili, cheese, onions, relish in any combination...it's still $1.25...and I make $.60 on every one.
The excuse for the 'associated' costs is pure nonsense and irrelevant!
There is no hot dog....anywhere on this small planet...worth $6 bucks!
Usually, these people are trying to raise money for some cause or crusade...and charge high prices which includes...a 'donation'
I'll choose to give money as a donation...but I'll go hungry before I'll pay $6 for a hot dog!

Posted by: Len Hobbs | June 29, 2009 1:10 PM    Report this comment

I have been duly schooled in the economics of hotdogs.


Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | June 29, 2009 2:34 PM    Report this comment

I have worked many trade shows and conventions during my 25+ year career in aerospace. EAA's Oshkosh and Sun 'N Fun are among the most expensive from a vendor standpoint. Don't blame the vendors, Blame EAA.

Posted by: Steve Zeller | June 29, 2009 4:56 PM    Report this comment

$6 Hotdogs? Try $8.00 for a 12oz can of beer at Ranger Stadium in Arlington, TX

Posted by: Roger Dugan | June 29, 2009 5:40 PM    Report this comment

Whether $1 or $4, bottled water is a ripoff. What's wrong with tap water? Not to mention the environmental costs of trucking water and dealing with the litter. The planners at Oshkosh should have public water fountains sprinkled libaerally all over the show.

Posted by: JEAN F REAT | June 30, 2009 6:37 AM    Report this comment

Don't get me wrong, the food at OSH is expensive, but the show is really a pretty good value for us. My wife and I bring a big cooler full of food to our campsite, and only eat out at the show about one meal a day. We bring our own bottled water (I don't like the bloated feeling I get from some tap water) When our cooler runs low, we take the shuttle bus from the North 40 to the grocery store and Target. All in all though, we can do our entire Oshkosh trip (including AvGas, food, a couple of T-shirts, and camping) for about $700 for a week (I fly an old 172 that doesn't use too much gas for our 600 mile round trip) I think EAA has done a great job at making the show an excellent value, considering the forums and shows are free (we especially enjoy the movie nights!) I don't know of many other tourist traps a person can visit for less than $300 a day (counting hotel, car, and food)

Posted by: Josh Johnson | June 30, 2009 8:49 PM    Report this comment

I dunno, I don't think airshows are any worse than most other events/captive-audience venues when it comes to this sort of thing. Hot dogs and beer at ballparks have been overpriced for years. A $1.50 bottle of water or a $1 soda costs $5 inside of (commercial) airport security. I don't like it either, but I also don't think it's that big of a deal and I also don't think you're going to get anyone to do anything about it.


Posted by: Chris Lawson | July 1, 2009 9:03 AM    Report this comment

Virtually every show that I've been involved in--aviation related or not--contracts out food service and has little input into pricing. Many times shows that are held at convention centers are required to use the food service at the convention center. If there's competition when you're bidding out the food service contract then you might be able to get lower prices as part of the deal. And you can't really judge prices from convenience stores (set overhead, steady year-long stream of customers) with prices at events (variable overhead and who knows how many customers we'll have). I remember drinking a glass of $14 wine in a restaurant and seeing a liquor store across the street with a big poster advertising the same wine for $12.99 a bottle. Should I boycott that restaurant?

I know you weren't singling out Airventure but the other comments seem to have focused on it. I haven't found Airventure food to be that expensive. Certainly much less expensive than food at almost any sporting event or convention center. Other aviation events are pricier, but food is still a drop in the bucket compared to getting there, staying there, admission, and the price of the toys you buy while you're there.

Posted by: RICHARD BEEBE | July 1, 2009 11:42 AM    Report this comment

A ripoff is a ripoff no matter how you try to justify it. It is pure B.S. that the sponsors have no control over pricing. High vendor fees translate directly into high prices. Greedy sponsors equal high prices. The fact that it costs an arm and leg to make the trip does not justify a ripoff when you arrive.
I've quit going to Sun N Fun and I'm not going to Oshkosh this year. It's just not worth it. I'm tired of being treated like a sucker. Who's loss? I usually spend between $500 and $3000 with the aviation vendors.

Posted by: Sid Love | July 1, 2009 4:31 PM    Report this comment

I've been to the shows where the prices are sky high and I don't buy food there unless I have to but selling bottled water at those prices are just plain ridiculous.With the heat the way it is at some of those shows you should be able to get water without going broke to help keep hydrated. At some shows that's the only water you can find and I feel they take advantage of it.

Posted by: Rick Hughes | July 2, 2009 5:08 AM    Report this comment

This past year has been a wake-up call for most Americans. For many years the economy was so good that being gouged at recreation events wasn't that big of a deal. Vendors got away with high prices because Americans became less inclined to shop around. Now with the economy in the dumper, Americans have begun to see the wisdom of shopping for the best price and deferring purchases when the price is just too high. The Cleveland Airshow has a "Security" policy that forbids any coolers except those needed for medicines from being brought on the grounds. This forces attendees to buy from the vendors or go hungry. Prices are, to say the least, exorbitant. So what do you do? Easy, stay home or watch the show from off the airport. If a vendor is out of line, don't grin and bear it, walk away! Itís time for Americans to take the initiative and responsibility to stop this highway robbery. If you don't mind getting ripped off, I have some swamp land in Florida to sell you, or maybe the Brooklyn Bridge.

Posted by: Kraig Krumm | July 2, 2009 7:30 AM    Report this comment

Ripoff or bargain? An interesting mix of opinions, but a fact missed: There are many free water fountains at both Oshkosh and Sun-N-Fun. No need to buy plastic water. The free water is wet, safe, and tastes like water.

Posted by: KEN ZIMMERMAN | July 2, 2009 7:37 AM    Report this comment

The EAA has the greatest motivation to promote attendance at OSH. They also control the vendor contracts. EAA can negotiate maximum prices for food just like they do for rental fees and service charges. If high food prices are contributing to smaller crowds at airshows the show management has the power to solve the problem.

Posted by: BRIAN R WENDT | July 2, 2009 12:37 PM    Report this comment

I use the same approach at OSH advocated by Josh Johnson: camp, shop at the local grocery store after arrival, and avoid buying food or water on the air show grounds. I also agree with Mr. Johnson that OSH is still an excellent value overall. I can't take my family anywhere else on vacation for the same dollars-per-day.

I donít think staying away from air shows because the price of food and water is high is a good strategy for ensuring the long-term survival of GA. On the other hand, I have no qualms about staying away from the food vendors.

Posted by: Al Sheldon | July 2, 2009 2:35 PM    Report this comment

Buying food and water at a grocery store saves a couple of dollars, but who wants to haul it around when you are attending the show. The convenience of stopping for lunch or buying a cold drink improves the show experience. Carrying all the info from equipment vendors and suppliers is enough.

Posted by: BRIAN R WENDT | July 2, 2009 3:16 PM    Report this comment

To carry around a couple of bottles of water isn't so bad, however we typically do buy our lunch at the convention. We eat breakfast and dinner at the campsite, which saves us easily half of what it would cost to go get "fair food" at the show - not to mention it's healthier than many items sold by the food vendors.

Posted by: Josh Johnson | July 4, 2009 6:29 AM    Report this comment

It's been a couple of years since I have attended AirVenture, but I know there were plenty of "water holes" throughout the venue where I could fill my CamelBack water backpack for free. Sure, the hotdogs and burgers were over-priced at the vendors, but that is to be expected at any sporting event. Bring sandwiches if you can't afford the dogs.

Posted by: Ward Burhanna | July 7, 2009 11:22 AM    Report this comment

Just look at what the EAA does with the bucks from their show! Those performers, services, and other entertainments etc. are the best! There is real value for the buck. The kickbacks from vendors helps pay for it. It's still beyond MY budget. Too bad for me. The locals are the lucky ones.

Posted by: Larry Fries | July 10, 2009 6:18 PM    Report this comment

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