Business Resources - Events - March 2019

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Birthday party packages should present some savings to guests but not undersell the overall experience when considering the cost of games, attractions, and food and beverage. (Credit: Gizmos Fun Factory)

Birthday Bonanza

How family entertainment centers can drive revenue with their parties

by Mike Bederka

Between the labor, organization, and, let’s face it, demanding parents, birthdays can be a high-maintenance product, and as a result, parties don’t receive the attention they deserve at some family entertainment centers (FECs).

“They feel like the juice isn’t worth the squeeze,” acknowledges Beth Standlee, CEO of TrainerTainment in Keller, Texas.

Despite the effort and resources parties require, she urges facilities to not pass on the profits they can produce and explains how to maximize birthday revenue.

Set Prices Appropriately

Some facilities fail to charge enough for their parties because they don’t feel like they can go toe-to-toe against the competition and need to price them on the cheap, she says. Others charge too much, scaring away families and limiting the throughput. 

“There’s a sweet spot,” says Standlee, an industry veteran and frequent IAAPA Expo speaker. 

FECs should first look at their real estate and how many parties they can realistically hold. For example, a facility with four party rooms could easily have five waves of parties on Saturday, four waves on Sunday, and a handful during the week, she says. That equals 40-plus possible birthdays, and FECs should strive for at least 50 percent capacity. 

“Do whatever it takes” to hit the mark, especially during the winter months—peak time for birthdays, she says. “Some facilities lack focus with their parties and just take what comes to them.”

Next, FECs need to figure out how much the games, rides, attractions, and food and beverage included in the party would run à la carte for a potential customer. The package should present some savings to the guest but not undersell the overall experience.

The Profitable Birthday Party Manual

The Profitable Birthday Party Manual, published by IAAPA, details how to design, sell, and deliver successful birthday programs. It includes information on creating party packages, hiring and training hosts, promoting the birthday program to the public, executing the event on the big day, and more. The manual—complimentary to IAAPA members—is available in English and Spanish as a downloadable PDF. Visit IAAPA.org/Resources for more details. 

“If the value is $280 and they charge $250, they have to brag loud and proud about it,” she says. “Make it an irresistible offering.”

Lastly, Standlee firmly believes birthdays should have dedicated hosts, and FECs need to factor that expense into the party package. Hosts handle all the varied guest needs, ensuring a smooth time for everyone and increasing the likelihood of repeat business from the event.

“Truthfully, besides a bartender, there are few other places inside the center where you can put the cost of labor directly in the cost of the product you’re selling,” she says.

Online Booking and Value Add-Ons

In general, Standlee considers herself a “person-to-person seller,” but she has a hard time saying anything negative about online party booking. It allows busy parents to review info and schedule the parties at their convenience, and the option could improve birthday bookings 30 to 50 percent, she says, noting a few caveats with the online route.

FECs only should offer a static, limited number of packages: small, medium, and large. “Get rid of everything else,” Standlee says. “Simple is better.”

Also, when parents book the party, have an employee call back as soon as possible to thank them for thinking of the venue, confirm the details, review logistics (e.g., arrive 15 minutes before the scheduled start time), and, importantly, inquire about add-ons.

These important extras can be included with any base package and increase the birthday spending dramatically, Standlee says. A couple of favorites she suggests include doubling the value of a $5 game card for only $3 and adding another attraction, such as a laser tag game or a climb on the ropes course.

The facility then should contact the parents about 72 hours prior to the party to reconfirm all the details, see if they have any questions, and, again, ask about potential add-ons. During this call, the employee can see about tacking on an adult food platter of sandwiches, fruit, and veggies in the package. 

“There’s sometimes a social awkwardness for adults at parties,” Standlee says. “They don’t know whether to drop off their child or not. With a platter, they will feel comfortable hanging out. One facility we work with makes it a goal to upsell an adult party platter to 40 percent of their birthdays.”

Even at the event itself, the host can make a pitch for add-ons when the guests quickly blow through their game cards or still look hungry after all the pizza gets gobbled up, she says. Facilities also may consider asking the day-of if the parents want to upgrade the whole party package from a small to medium or a medium to large. Staff could run the tabs for both choices to help them make the last-minute impulse decision.

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Birthday parties offer an opportunity to cultivate new business by asking party attendees to consider the FEC for their own future events. (Credit: Gizmos Fun Factory)

Encouraging Repeat Business

During the party, the FEC will have a captive audience to exponentially expand its birthday business, Standlee says. As the event begins to wrap up, the hosts should reintroduce themselves to the group, thank the guests and their parents for coming, and urge them to consider the FEC for their own birthdays in the future. 

“Simply ask them,” says Standlee, also a proponent of birthday clubs and Kids Bowl Free and Kids Skate Free programs to generate birthday prospects.

In addition, FECs should go back to the party family roughly 30 to 45 days before their next special day for further outreach, she says. Standlee recommends the employee say something along the lines of, “We want to be the first one to wish you a happy birthday from the fun center down the way. We’re curious about what you have planned.”

The employee should then close the call by offering a free $5 game card for the next time they visit to help seal the deal.

“If they’re there physically in front of you, they’re more likely to book the event,” Standlee says.