2017 IAAPA Attractions Expo Recap - Food and Beverage

Food and Beverage Leaders Serve Up New Strategies for Revenue

by Scott Fais 

“Put a stick in it” is now “Put it in a cone.”

The newest food and beverage (F&B) items generating buzz—and a positive spike in sales—were the talk of education sessions at IAAPA Attractions Expo 2017.

“Don’t be afraid to try something new,” said Vern Gassen, director of revenue with Schlitterbahn Kansas City Waterpark. 

1801_EXPO_F&B_1Food and beverage leaders like Gassen shared that in-house creation of unique items guests can enjoy on the move can produce greater profits.

A new handcrafted milkshake made at Hersheypark led to social media buzz. A new fried rib sandwich at Silver Dollar City saw a return on investment of 94 percent in the first year. Alcohol sales also lead to a robust bottom line.

“You have to keep your guests engaged in new concepts,” said Jonathan Vigue, ICAE, director of revenue at Wild Adventures.

Hersheypark took a location previously home to a third-party vendor and created an in-house brand named Simply Chocolate in 2016. The new location’s star is the “King Size Shake,” a colossal milkshake known for additional candy adorning the whipped cream on top. 

“It’s truly become one of those things when people come to the park that they are searching out,” said Bernie Campbell, ICAE, a regional director with Whirley-DrinkWorks.

Within the first week of its debut, the chocolate dipped “King Size Shake” gathered 825,000 impressions on social media, while USA Today named it a top-10 “must-have” item at amusement parks. More than 5,000 shakes were sold in 2016. In 2017, sales grew to 25,000 units. The positive bump came from additional signage around the park.

“Would you want to eat a faded hamburger?” asked Mike Holtzman, president of Profitable Food Facilities. He believes using fresh signage, utilizing photos taken on something as simple as a smartphone, to drive revenue.  

“If you still have menu boards with just words on them, you’re selling yourself short,” Holtzman said.

1801_EXPO_F&B_3Shannon Seip, co-founder of Bean Sprouts, also believes signage with photos needs to be placed outside a venue, not inside where a passing guest will never see it.

“I would have to put my head through the window to read the digital menu,” Seip said while offering an example of how passing traffic cannot see into a quick-service location. Her Bean Sprouts health-conscious, yet kid-friendly menu drove additional sales at a new location inside Kennywood. Food items containing nothing artificial are arranged in such a way that resembles animal faces. Targeting youngsters meant lowering the countertops to their level, painting exteriors a bright color and assembling meals quickly.

“We know kids do not want to wait,” Seip said.

Adding adult beverages can boost the bottom line, but industry leaders warn a misstep can create headaches, the need for additional inspections, and time diverted from core operations. Managing the addition of alcohol at a zoo or family entertainment center (FEC) starts with a plan, and additional finances to gain the necessary permits. In a session named “Raising the Bar: Mixing Adult Beverages in a Kids’ World,” Suzanne Hewitt-Wallace with Turfway Entertainment Management Group outlined how adding beer, wine, and frozen drinks can boost revenue.

1801_EXPO_F&B_2“You have to know your audience,” Hewitt-Wallace said. “You need to be in touch with their basic needs, and if adding adult beverages would benefit them and you.”

While some parents would appreciate adding a drink to their visit, others would not. Gassen of Schlitterbahn Waterpark shared how the addition of an adult bar overlooking a children’s play area was envisioned to be a space where moms and dads could sip a cool drink while keeping an eye on their little ones. The plan backfired, Gassen said. 

“Some parents responded differently than we thought,” he said. “We thought we were creating an area they would enjoy, while many questioned our reasoning.”

Gassen found many parents questioned the proximity of alcohol service next to a safe area for children. Instead, he suggested taking an underperforming location in a general area and turning it into a stand that serves adult drinks. A zoo in the heartland saw double-digit growth when they cored a pineapple and began offering a fruit and alcohol mix. 

Gassen also urged libations served at a water park not be made strong, rather always mixed with other liquids like fruit juice found in the pineapples. Hewitt-Wallace is a believer of frozen beverages that have a high water and ice concentration with a limited amount of alcohol mixed in. She also said zoos and FECs that begin to serve adult beverages would be wise to buy the proper equipment secondhand. Before investing in new food prep tables, blenders, and refrigeration units, find them used elsewhere to save on startup costs. She also suggested establishing rules preventing employees who serve alcohol from drinking at your facility during their off hours. She concluded that taking inventory often is key when staying within budget and generating revenue.

When developing new F&B strategies, consider these tips:

  • New products need to have a theme.
  • Menu items must be perceived as a “must-have.”
  • Walk your facility and take a fresh look at existing signs.
  • Update maps to celebrate new items’ arrival and location.
  • Menu boards must contain photos and be placed outside.
  • Use fellow staff as a test audience for feedback.
  • Don’t be afraid to fail and try again next season.