Laser Tag and Food Service:
Something to Chew Over

September 15, 2010 No Comments

Players in your laser tag arena have just spent the last 12 minutes zapping each other in the most exciting game of their lives. Many of these players have played at least one game so far and now the hunger pains are kicking in. What does your facility have to offer in the way of food and refreshments?
Believe it or not, this is actually a question that should be addressed long before your facility opens. In the early days of laser tag, providing the bare food essentials were good enough to squeak by. After all, the business was about selling laser tag, not providing three-course meals for an afternoon activity. Candy bars, soda fountains, reheated delivered pizza, and slushies were about all that one could look forward to when visiting a stand-alone laser tag location.
While pumping kids with enough of a sugar-high to put them in a coma was the business model in the 1980s and 1990s, (What did we care? They weren’t going home with us.) today’s model has already begun to shift. The profits available to facilities that have more to offer than candy are worth the time it takes to determine if your facility can benefit from providing real food.
In our discussions with successful developers and operators, the idea of adding a restaurant-style element to their facility is gaining more appeal. The trend in the industry right now is to offer more value to the experience provided in their facilities and to keep your customers in the facility longer, capturing more revenue per visitor. Many have added attractions, but another option is to add to the dining experience. It is interesting to note that successful restaurant chains are expanding to include laser tag, so it makes sense that the reverse is taking hold.
While pizza is still at the top of the food chain in most locations, it is by no means the only thing being offered. Hamburgers, hotdogs, chicken sandwiches, funnel cakes and soft pretzels are now on the menu. Greaseless fryers have come on strong and given facilities the ability to offer a large variety of food items, like chicken tenders, egg rolls, corn dogs, battered veggies and cheese sticks, battered French fries and more. Because these items are prepared at a much quicker speed, the return on investment and low labor costs have dramatically increased revenues for facilities.  
Some locations have even gone the route of preparing healthier food choices for their guests. Fruits, vegetables, healthy shakes, low-fat, zero calorie and zero grams of trans fat items have come into play in some newer facilities. Now operators can offer great tasting food that will not contribute to poor diet health risks for children.
Developers should take special care to determine in advance if they wish to pursue a larger food preparation route. Opening small and trying to expand can often be difficult, especially in those areas where you have to wait for a neighboring tenant’s lease to expire or negotiate with a difficult landlord.    
While in the development phase, you will have to allow for enough room to host a kitchen and a sit-down eating area. This will require a larger footprint for your facility.  Space requirements for these areas can be found through your local health inspection office, as well as other items to consider, from sinks to safety codes. Finding very nice equipment can be fairly easy as some locations purchase their fixtures, ovens, etc. through auctions from closing restaurants.
Members of the International Laser Tag Association can also take advantage of savings from various manufacturers of food preparation equipment by contacting the suppliers through www.lasertag.org/operator.html.
So whether you are on the quick sugar-fix, healthy food kick, or the restaurant style preparation, it is worth taking the time to determine what kind of nourishment you will offer your customers. It is also worth weighing the other options to see if you are leaving a substantial amount of revenue on the table. Don’t be an operator that avoided the initial headaches of getting your high-quality food area going and missed the opportunity to generate great profits.
(Eric Gaizat is the director of Membership Services for the International Laser Tag Association, Inc.)

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