Ideas in Bloom
Spring is here, and as attractions are eager to open their facilities and welcome guests, Funworld shares ideas from amusement park, water park, and family entertainment center (FEC) operators for boosting revenues while keeping operating costs in check.
Food and Beverage Blossoms
Food and beverage (F&B) outlets can be major profit centers. Finding cost-effective ways to refresh them can entice guests to spend more money, while enhancing their sense of enjoyment.
Good to Go
Fantasilandia in Santiago, Chile, is boosting its summer F&B lineup in three innovative ways. First, the park is repurposing two hot dog mini food carts into a “Veget All’ vegetarian fast-food stand.
“There is a big tendency in the world toward demanding more vegetables and less meat,” says Rodrigo Alamos, Fantasilandia’s internal sales manager. “We reacted quickly and came up with this concept where you choose your ingredients for salads and sandwiches with different types of grain bread.”
Next, the park in Chile hopes to appeal to guests’ senses as they exit the park. Stands offering frozen drinks made from fresh fruit and freshly roasted caramel peanuts are positioned in a location to appear attractive to guests as they leave the park. Both items are designed to be handheld—not consumed sitting at a table—thus, they’re convenient for guests as they travel home.
Grub to Grab
With water parks in Austin and Houston, Typhoon Texas has developed many financially efficient, crowd-pleasing elements to reinvigorate its F&B operations. For instance, “we simplified our taco recipes to speed up preparation and started providing premade entrees/sides for our customers,” says Walter Teem, director of revenue at Typhoon Texas Houston. “Now guests can just ‘grab and go’ what they want rather than waiting in line for 10 minutes.”
“We turned a burger shack into a hand-dipped corn dog stand for the same reasons,” adds David Thompson, food and beverage manager at Typhoon Texas Houston. “This change went well with our brand concept and sped up customer service, resulting in a huge revenue increase while making guests happy.”
Typhoon Texas has also refreshed its F&B offerings by introducing online ordering and expanding a limited-selection bar into a full bar. “We actually doubled per capita sales from previous years in that unit alone just by switching the concept, which was amazing,” says Cade Vereen, director of revenue at Typhoon Texas Austin.
Hot and Cold Unite
Renovating indoor and outdoor dining areas can reignite guests’ interest in these locations, says Tim Murphy, CEO of the Boomers Parks chain of FECs and water parks. “I have found that there are two kinds of guests at Boomers Parks: one guest that likes the heat and another guest that likes air conditioning,” he tells Funworld. “So we created both outdoor and indoor dining spaces with areas to hang out and enjoy some much-needed foods, beverages, and alcoholic drinks between all the fun in the park.”
Outdoor areas include spaces with multiple flat-screen TVs, fire pits, and heat lamps when it’s chilly to motivate guests to stay longer and purchase more offerings.
Boomers Parks has refreshed its menus by “adding new Nashville hot and Korean barbecue flavor profiles and making a commitment to add new flavors each month for the remainder of 2021,” says Murphy. It has also moved from serving just beer and wine to now offering a full range of alcoholic drinks at five of its parks, as well as ensuring all restrooms are spotless and remodeled because “bathrooms and cleanliness make money.”
The Science of Sales
Revamping menus and signage are effective ways to boost F&B sales, says Ken Whiting, president of Whiting’s Food Concessions. “The key is to streamline your menus to focus on the top sellers—those that generate 5% or more of total sales—which simplifies preparation and helps control costs while boosting revenues,” he says. “Other smart ideas include offering unique menu items for special occasions and resigning your menu boards to clearly communicate what is being sold.”
Grow Attendance, Extend Stays with Special Events
Special events are a great way to attract new and returning guests to amusement parks and attractions. These events can include themed weekends, holiday spectaculars, or festivals that combine food, fun, and entertainment that make guests want to visit time and time again.
Make Music and Tempt Tastebuds
Typhoon Texas Houston’s “Blues, Brews & BBQ” event packages live music with specialty drinks and dishes, giving guests a new reason to visit.
“We bring in local beermakers to allow our guests to sample their brews, heavily promote our own Texas smokehouse barbecue, and bring in blues bands who play throughout the day,” says Evan Barnett, president and general manager of Typhoon Texas.
The attraction to live music, along with new menu items to savor for a limited amount of time, can create the fear of missing out—known as FOMO. When attractions create backdrops or displays with props near food stations, they can gain publicity by turning guests into event ambassadors. Photos shared on social media of delectable food items can generate feelings of FOMO, and thus, inspire others to visit. Each backdrop should include an attraction’s logo and a hashtag that can be easily searched for on Twitter and Instagram.
“It’s been really well received by our guests,” says Barnett of “Blues, Brews & BBQ.”
End the Night with a BANG!
Extending guest stays can also boost park revenues, which is why evening shows are so popular.
“The whole point of a nighttime show, night parade, or fireworks show has historically been to keep guests for dinner, to gain an extra meal that was not planned and raise revenue,” explains Edward Marks, founder and co-CEO of The Producers Group. “Typically, these types of programming are scheduled at 9 p.m. or thereabouts. This isn’t coincidence or merely good timing: A 9 p.m. start time allows for guests to stay for dinner specifically if they weren’t planning on it. It almost ensures that the guests’ experience is going to be extended.”
Adam Bezark, owner and chief creative officer at The Bezark Company, made his name for himself by creating nighttime fireworks spectaculars at Florida theme parks. He tells Funworld the allure of an evening show can sustain attendance levels in the evening and increase in-park spending, since guests will make dinner reservations and stay inside the gate for supper.
Dare to be Different
Leveraging an attraction’s existing capabilities can create something novel. That’s an approach being employed by Rush Mountain Adventure Park whose Rushmore Cave (close to Mount Rushmore) has been a tourist destination since 1927. In addition to zip lines, rides, a ropes course, and cave tours, Rush Mountain now offers themed special events that combine many of these elements into entirely new events aimed at local residents.
For example, the park’s “Love on All Levels” promotion in February was a couples-only event within the cave itself.
“We light five of the rooms inside the cave exclusively with candlelight,” says Rush Mountain Owner/Operator Tom Hagen. “In each room, there is a wine tasting, appetizers, and live music. In one room where weddings have traditionally been performed, we also offer a renewal of vows.” Couples also receive pairs of tickets to numerous park attractions, hot and cold drinks along the way, and dessert to cap off the evening.
Rush Mountain offers similarly themed events in its cave for Easter, June (with a summer fair hook), and Halloween.
“Any time we can find a way to incorporate the cave into an event, it immediately elevates that event,” says Hagen. “Between these events and our involvement with community work, we have increased the awareness of our business with locals and, in turn, our revenue.”
Money Grows on Trees
Attractions can earn extra revenue beyond their core offerings by offering guests VIP, behind-the-scenes, and after-hours tours for additional fees. For instance, a theme park can charge a family a premium rate for reserved tables at restaurants, front-of-line ride access, and meet-and-greets with the facility’s costumed characters. A museum can host sleepovers in its dinosaur gallery.
Amusement parks and attractions can save without compromising the quality of their products. A case in point: Typhoon Texas’ profit margins are vulnerable to price variations in commodities such as F&B.
“The price of beef can change drastically depending on how the market is doing,” says Teem. “So we mitigate that risk by negotiating long-term contracts with our beef and other F&B suppliers on how much we are going to buy from them and the fixed prices that we will pay.”
Typhoon Texas also combines purchases for its parks in Austin and Houston. “As a result, we’re able to get volume discounts on high-usage items like fries, chicken tenders, and bottled water,” he says.
Typhoon Texas also saves money on its promotion budget by focusing all of its advertising efforts on the web.
“We got away from using billboards, radio, and TV, which are really expensive in our markets,” says Barnett. “Now we’re only spending on digital marketing. We’ve had very successful results by doing that while keeping our costs low.”
Connecting with guests in a virtual way also provides publicity that can lead to a future visit.
“For animal education institutions like zoos and aquariums, the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the trend of hosting virtual animal visits,” says Lex Rhodes, creative coordinator at The Bezark Company, who is also an amateur zoologist. “Many animal care teams have, almost overnight, become self-taught streamers, utilizing broadcast and monetization strategies popularized on Twitch and YouTube to bring their conservation message into people’s homes.”
Save by Looking Inward
Finally, Typhoon Texas started saving money by changing its payroll provider and simplifying how its staff is managed—right down to how employees clock in and clock out.
“In the past, our labor was handled by a few layers of management,” Barnett notes. “Now the supervisors do it all, which saves a significant amount time and money.”
With employment laws often changing, and new rules and regulations taking effect throughout the year, owners and operators should ensure supervisors and managers know the current standards and practices.
James Careless is a Canada-based writer who covers the attractions industry for Funworld.