Best FEC Birthday Parties Begin with Hiring Best Possible Staffers

by Mike Bederka

Dozens of purple and pink balloons appropriately lined the seminar room’s walls as the family entertainment center (FEC) track kicked off Monday with “FEC: Town Hall Birthday Party Forum.” An international panel of experts described best hiring practices, theming tips, and marketing and sales strategies to improve party business.

“Birthdays are very profitable, if you do them right,” said Marc Pollack, general manager at Boomers–Boca Raton, who stressed the value of group auditions rather than traditional one-on-one interviews to find staff. “You get to see them on stage. It removes them from their comfort zone.”

During the auditions, have potential hires do a series of team-building and guest-services activities to better get a feel for their personalities, he said. For example, play a game of a group rock, paper, scissors; ask them to put on a puppet show; or pose a role-playing scenario where none of the party guests show up.

Cesar Lago, owner and director of Mundo Cartoon Network and Evelyne Villame, consultant and founder of La Boîte aux Enfants, discussed how effective theming boosts a party’s entertainment value. To help create those memorable moments, Lago often uses licensed characters on the cake, costumes, masks, goodie bags, stickers, and more.

On the other hand, Villame goes with individually themed rooms at her Gulli Parc facilities, such as the Old West, pirates, or space. For the circus room, guests wear clown noses and play spinning-plate games. “Carry as many elements as you can into the story,” she said.

Brian Cohen, V.P. of operations at Entertainment Properties Group, and Colleen Wyatt, marketing manager at Hinkle Family Fun Center, offered these sales and marketing tips:

  • Never lead with the price. Sell the experience instead.
  • Always have someone answering the phone, and track when people call to book a party. “We realized we needed to stay open an hour later,” Wyatt said.
  • Offer online sales. “People often don’t want to talk to a reservationist,” Cohen said. “They want to book it immediately.”
  • Word of mouth will make or break any party program. Strongly encourage online reviews from guests.
  • Spend money wisely. Google AdWords and sponsored Facebook posts can help drive revenue.

The FEC track continued with “Fraud in the FEC: General Information and Process Management.”

“This topic always hurts, but we need to face this problem,” said Luciana Periales, CEO of Neverland, noting statistics show half of organizations will suffer from fraud at some point this year and 58 percent admit they have a weak control system.

Fraud can take many forms, she explained, including staff mischarging customers and pocketing the money, stealing prizes from merchandisers, and going into cahoots with unscrupulous suppliers.

FECs owners and operators should analyze at-risk areas and generate a detailed inventory of fraud cases, said Emiliano Rufeil, CFO at Neverland. Once they find the critical points, look for possible solutions. Does there need to be division of responsibilities? Do managers have to validate balance transfer on game cards? Should cameras be added in certain locations?

With that, create a culture of trust where employees feel comfortable reporting suspicious activity, even if the perpetrator ranks above them, he said.

The FEC track continues Tuesday. Highlights include: “FEC Lunch: Entrepreneurial Operational System (EOS) Initiatives,” 12-2 p.m., N310EFGH (separate ticket required); “Creating a Profitable Future for Your FEC,” 3:30-4:45 p.m., S330AB; and “F&B for Your FEC,” 5-6:15 p.m., S330EF. 


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