Food & Beverage - January 2017

Food and Beverage Secrets

Top operators offer advice on menus, signature items, and more helpful tips

by Michael Switow

There’s no silver bullet when it comes to food and beverage solutions for the attractions industry, but there are best practices that can be applied across the industry. That was the key message of three industry veterans who have nearly 100 years of experience between them and spoke in an education session entitled “Food and Beverage Journey to Success—A Panel of Distinction.”

“Create a signature item for your park. It’s not that hard,” advised the event moderator, Bob Amoruso of New York’s Adventureland. “Figure out something in your region that you can call your own that will be identified in your park.”

Along California’s Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, for example, Whiting’s Foods has sold sweet and savory snacks for more than six decades, but visitors strolling the seaside are welcome to bring their own food from home. To compete with packed lunches and store-bought snacks, Whiting’s focuses on “unique, indulgent specialty items” that sell for $6-$7 apiece, like freshly baked waffle cones, deep-fried Twinkies, churros, and garlic fries.

“It’s not a one-size-fits-all solution. What works for me won’t work for lots of you here. But some will for sure,” said Whiting’s Food President Ken Whiting, who was just elected to the IAAPA Board of Directors and also consults across the United States, advising more than 100 venues about food and beverage (F&B) matters.

“Get the menu down to what you can sell,” Whiting advised. Try new dishes, but drop the ones that don’t perform. Focusing on unique snacks provides attractions with a lot of price elasticity, as well as good stories on social media.

Tony Rodriguez—a food-service manager at Knoebels Amusement Resort, an award-winning family-owned theme park in Pennsylvania—agreed it’s important to offer iconic food items, which draw visitors back and create online buzz. But, he added, you should keep the recipes as simple as possible, particularly since the cooks are usually students working part time. Simplicity is the key to consistency and safety.

Consistency is also an important concern for Palace Entertainment, which operates a plethora of food venues in 22 attractions across 10 states. For Albert Cabuco, the company’s vice president for F&B, negotiating marketing deals with vendors is key.

“Whoever gives you the most marketing dollars, as long as the quality of their products meets your specifications and standards, become in the running for getting your business,” Cabuco said. 

Palace Entertainment develops sponsorship programs and pricing agreements with nearly 45 vendors annually to purchase everything from hamburger patties to condiments to ice cream in bulk. Sponsors pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to become exclusive suppliers to Palace’s chain of water parks, theme parks, family entertainment centers, and animal attractions. In return, they receive branding recognition on menus, websites, and other collateral.

While vendors are standardized, restaurants in individual attractions are still encouraged to customize their dishes, though the pricing of common items—like hamburgers and hot dogs—is always the same.

Not sure how to proceed? Odds are other attraction operators are wrestling with the same issues. “Don’t operate in a vacuum,” Whiting counseled. “See how someone else is dealing with it. This industry is tremendously open when it comes to sharing information.”