19 F&B Trends in ’19
From hamburgers served on buns made of deep-fried mac and cheese and making videos of front-line staff to fewer frozen ingredients and fluctuating soda pricing, Funworld identified multiple trends in today’s food and beverage (F&B) marketplace that can boost revenue and guest service.
“People are spending money, somewhere. You want to be the place where they are spending it,” says Lee Pitts of Andretti Indoor Karting & Games.
Several leading experts shared their insights on how attractions can create better value, generate excitement, and net more profit from their F&B program this year. Here are 19 of the hottest trends in F&B.
1. Build Smaller Locations
You don’t have to go big to hit a home run. Instead of constructing a full-blown restaurant footprint that can cost $3-5 million, look at making smaller investments with pathway carts, event-driven kiosks, and food trucks, says Michael Holtzman, president of Profitable Food Facilities Worldwide.
“Kiosks can be a more affordable way for a company to grow meal capacity and [remain] a great way to grow revenue,” he says. Holtzman advises streamlined menu offerings that include alcohol such as craft beer and frozen alcoholic drinks that can pull in a higher price.
2. Mix in Alcohol
If it makes sense, sell alcohol, “but do it intentionally,” offers Holtzman, “to help create an experience.” Think a simple margarita or daiquiri at a water park, a wine bar at a bowling alley, and adult hot chocolate with fun add-ins during festive holiday events.
The biggest idea Holtzman’s consulting team gathered from a recent bowling alley client is to ask guests when they order drinks if they’d like a double shot. If a single shot is $5, then charge $7.50 for a double, says Holtzman. “Pricing is key, and all you have to do is ask.” The same goes for beer. “Offer two similar sizes such as a 16-ounce and 22-ounce, but make the larger one the best value.”
3. Sell Branded Food
In some cases, says Albert Cabuco, vice president of F&B at Palace Entertainment, branded concepts such as Auntie Anne’s pretzels, Pink’s Hot Dogs, or Johnny Rockets can double—even triple—sales in certain parks. “Anywhere we put a Dunkin’ Donuts, we sell like crazy,” he adds. Cabuco cautions that just because “branding units are the name of the game,” it’s important to match the demographics of the area.
Last year, Universal Orlando Resort opened Voodoo Doughnut, the “delightfully weird and sinfully delicious doughnuts” (whose flagship location is an iconic Portland, Oregon, food stop) at Universal CityWalk. “The guest response has been amazing,” says a Universal spokesperson. “You now see the iconic pink Voodoo Doughnut boxes in the hands of our guests all across the destination.” The venue recently sold its 2 millionth doughnut.
4. Tweak Existing Products
No, not every single product, just the top 10, suggests Holtzman, who says that for most operations, the top 10 items will make up at least 60 percent of sales. “Focus on making those the best and spend less time on the rest,” says Holtzman. “Take your time with these,” he says. “Look at the quality of each item. Where is it coming from? Does it sound good? Would you want to eat it?” And of course, how much does it cost?
5. Crunch numbers
Sales reports may identify your top moneymakers, but make sure you understand your profit margin. “Go get a usage report from your vendor to find out how much product you bought from them and what it cost,” says Holtzman. He recommends asking what you can do differently without jeopardizing quality. For instance, if your usage report shows you buy a lot of French fries, how much are you paying per case? Fries are rated grade A, B, and C, says Holtzman. “If the A product you’re buying costs $36 a case, find another A that costs less,” he suggests.
6. Cook Fresh Instead of Frozen
This is where the “tweaking” from No. 4 above comes in. Holtzman urges clients to move everything to fresh. “You don’t need new menu items” he says. “You need to make your top sellers delicious, and fresh is how you do it.”
That means forgetting the frozen burgers. “Have you read the number of ingredients in those pre-made burgers you buy by the case?” Holtzman paints a picture of what fresh looks like when cooked to order over a charcoal grill. Guests catch the scent of sizzling meat commingled with fire-hot charcoal before they’ve even placed their order. Holtzman says to be ready for a buzz of activity around the grill as guests pick up their orders. “You have to create an experience,” he says.
Another fresh spin on a top-seller: replace a pre-packaged ice cream product with a soft serve machine. “Yes, that machine costs $10,000,” Holtzman acknowledges, “but your food costs drop from 50 percent to 18 percent. You’ll make it back in a year, maybe even in a few months.”
And how about those chicken tenders? “Tenders are not very good if they are frozen. They are superb if they are fresh,” says Holtzman. “Yes, your labor costs go up, but your revenues will increase.”
7. Make It a Combo
If you don’t have a combo on your menu, you’re leaving money on the table.
Holtzman advises first raising a la carte pricing, “so it makes more sense to get the combo than just the burger.” Sure, the combo price is less than the total of each item it contains, but Holtzman guarantees it’ll bring your per-ring revenue up.
“I don’t want to create value for buying a la carte,” he says. “I want to create value for the combo, maximizing the margin per guest.”
8. ‘Say Cheese’: Use Food Photos
They say a picture is worth a thousand words, so use them! It’s not enough to add a combo to your menu; experts recommend you put a picture of combo items on your menu. “People see the story and connect,” says Holtzman.
“Use pictures and any wording that amps up the perceived value of what you are serving, and you will sell more and be able to justify a higher price,” says Shannon Seip, co-founder and co-CEO of Bean Sprouts, kid-centric, health-conscious cafés that operate in museums, zoos, science centers, and other family attractions.
Use the tools you have, she adds. “We do all our food photography with natural light. We don’t have a special photo booth.” You can even purchase high-quality images from stock agencies, including Shutterstock and iStock.
9. Go Social
Don’t overlook the power of social media. Seip recalls an instance when she was opening a café at the Milwaukee Zoo. “A picture of a cute baby giraffe was posted the day it was born and received 35 likes. Another post mentioned that Bean Sprouts was coming with allergy-friendly food and to check out their menu and allergy charts,” Seip recalls, adding the second post was shared more than 400 times in the first day.
If you think you’re too old for social media, says Holtzman, engage your younger team members to help tell your story in a supervised manner. It’s an opportunity for them to teach you something new, while giving them a sense of ownership.
10. Change Soda Pricing
Holtzman describes how a water park’s soda revenue increased $1,607 in a single day with just a few small changes. Instead of offering three soda sizes, the small became the child’s size (which most adults won’t buy), and the medium price was increased by 25 cents to make the large size appear as the best value. “That’s just one item,” says Holtzman. “Take apart the whole menu and dissect it and see what’s there. Even in small concessions, you can make an impact.”
11. Pull Those Candy Bars
“How many do you have to sell to pay your $12-$15 per-hour labor?” asks Holtzman. If the margin is only 50 cents per bar, you have to sell at least 24 of them per hour. “You have a captive audience who isn’t going to leave because you don’t sell Snickers,” he says. “They’ll buy something else.” (How about a funnel cake in the shape of Texas? See No. 16.)
12. Dollars vs. Cents
Don’t put items on the menu that retail for only 50 cents: candy, mints, dipping sauce packets. A 50-cent item makes your menu look cheap and makes regular items, such as an $8 burger, seem expensive, according to Holtzman.
13. Load Up with Special Events
When looking to boost the bottom line and increase revenue, as well as the top line (bringing in more guests), Lee Pitts, chief operations officer at Andretti Indoor Karting & Games, uses slow periods to promote special events, which now make up 23 percent of its operations.
Pitts says Andretti will crank out 30 to 35 birthday parties on Saturdays starting at 10 a.m. with the average check being $500. Some party costs can climb as high as $3,000. “We know how many people are coming, at what time, and what they’ll eat,” he says. Plus, it’s not just the kids attending, but often their parents, too. “They’re having fun and end up staying a couple more hours. Then, their kids ask for a birthday party at Andretti.”
If you focus on only one kind of special event, do birthday parties, says Pitts. But the market for events is much larger. Think social, military, educational, religious, and fraternal groups (known as SMERF in the meetings-and-groups industry); team-building, tour and travel industry, and destination management companies. “Each is an opportunity to introduce all sorts of people to the brand,” says Pitt. “If you have the space, carve out a place where you can do events. You will be amazed at how many people out there will come and see you.”
14. Fix the Flow
“Food isn’t just food anymore. Food can take away from the experience; food can enhance the experience. Sometimes, food can even save the experience,” says Holtzman, referencing how a quick-moving line can improve a guest’s attitude on the hottest, busiest weekend at a water park.
“It’s all about flow,” he says, advising clients to video record how their team works in the kitchen and then watch it in slow motion. Look for where crews are getting hung up on each other. Where are the inefficiencies? How far do employees have to walk to fill a soda or get fries? “When you get it right, it really is like a symphony,” Holtzman says.
15. Time Your Lines
This is where the process really gets stuck. “No matter how you’ve fixed your flow behind the counter, ordering food at the cashier takes the most time, Holtzman says. He challenges that if you can get that time down by 15 seconds, with 5,000 people in your park, you’ve just created a surplus of 75,000 seconds (almost 21 hours) to better serve guests.
One solution: Send someone down the line to ask, “What can I get for you today?” That person becomes the front line for answering questions and taking the order but not processing the payment transaction. “Hand the guest a paper with their order that they give to the cashier.”
16. Create a Signature Item
“Don’t just make a funnel cake,” says Holtzman, “make it in the shape of Texas!” Now you’ve got a signature menu item for which you can charge a premium price, build promotions around, and promote on social media. “People recognize your brand through your food,” says Holtzman. For instance, the pretzel-wrapped turkey leg at SeaWorld Orlando and the Twister Dog (a fried potato that twists up a hot dog on a stick) at Sandcastle Water Park in Pittsburgh are two items that command attention and create buzz. Another benefit to offering a $14.95 signature funnel cake? “It makes the regular one that costs $4.95 seem like a steal.”
Still looking for ideas? Palace Entertainment’s Cabuco shares some of the “more is better,” over-the-top trends to which you can give your own unique twist: hamburgers served on “buns” made of deep-fried mac and cheese, ramen noodles, or even donuts; Mexican street corn rolled in spicy mayo and crushed hot Cheetos; giant-sized milkshakes topped with a buffet of bite-sized desserts; fried chicken and waffles on a stick; and bacon-wrapped pork belly. “If you aren’t selling pork belly, you’re losing money,” says Cabuco, referencing the current popularity of the item.
17. Expand Your Beverage Offerings
“Sparkling water is where it’s at,” says Bean Sprouts’ Seip, pointing to a 40 percent rise in sales in this category. Kombucha is also on the rise with Whole Foods dedicating one-third of its functional beverage displays to the flavored fermented tea. Seip points to recent canned options that overcome the challenge of kombucha only being served in glass bottles. She also highlights cold-brew coffee as being hugely popular with a 370 percent increase in sales over three years.
18. Offer Health-Conscious Snacks
Healthy, allergy-conscious meals and snacks are becoming more mainstream, says Seip. “You need to offer them to stay relevant and competitive,” she says. Fruit-based soft serve, like Dole Whip, is a popular dairy-free alternative to ice cream. Artisanal popsicles with unique combinations of ingredients such as blackberry ginger or pomegranate margarita can prove popular with adults. (For more ideas on adding healthy items, see p. 52.)
19. Add Themed Items
When the curtain opens on Steelers Country at Kennywood in West Mifflin, Pennsylvania, this summer, it won’t just be the “Steel Curtain” colossal coaster at the center of the field, but what Cabuco calls “upscale twists with a step above your typical stadium food.” Many of the items heading to the menu this summer are named after Pittsburgh icons. The Steel Town chicken stack, Three River salad, Steelers Pick-Six chicken wings, and the firehouse #12 chili dog convey names of notable locations around town.
“We’ve crafted the menu to incorporate regional food favorites that originated in the diverse ethnic boroughs of the city,” Cabuco says.
Kennywood’s indoor End Zone Cafe will have an open kitchen concept that will serve pierogis, a savory dumpling, and zucchini sticks served in a football-shaped bowl. The outside Tailgate Patio will recreate a parking lot picnic, complete with sloppy Joe nachos—nestled in a pizza box—perfect as a snack while strolling the park or waiting in line.