Rules of the Game:
Inside the Dirty Job of Keeping Bowling Alleys Clean

September 15, 2010 No Comments

For 20 years, Jon Perper has been giving seminars about how bowling alley owners can keep their venues pristine. Sure, it may seem fairly simple. But Perper, president of Playdrome Bowling & Entertainment Centers with three locations in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, said keeping up appearances is a lot more complicated than it looks.
“There’s an art and a challenge to it,” admitted Perper, who said he has very high standards for the way his three centers are maintained on a daily basis. “The trick to being the cleanest guy in town is paying attention to the little things.”

While Perper said most competitive bowling alley owners already know it’s important to keep the floors mopped and vacuumed, the bathrooms sanitized and the tables wiped, there are other ways to spruce up a venue so that a customer’s first impression is always a positive one.

“It takes a dedicated eye to keep the details clean,” said Perper, who has a checklist of ongoing cleaning duties that range from disinfecting seats and tables, to removing gum in the carpets, dusting base boards and cleaning air vents. “When you put that all together,” he said, “that’s what keeps a clean environment.”

He also said updating paint and lighting can improve the overall impression a bowling alley makes on customers. Dark and dingy decor usually makes people think a venue is dirty, he said, while bright and colorful lighting and wall paint can make a destination really shine. “Unfortunately, you can have the cleanest place,” said Perper, “but if you have dated colors and walls that are scratched, customers are going to notice.”

A Dirty Job

The regulars at Palmya Bowling in Palmyra, Pa., just a few miles west of Hershey, a famous tourist destination in Pennsylvania Dutch Country, always take notice of a clean center, said proprietor Amy Eiserman. But it’s not always easy keeping up with every day wear and tear.

“We use various cleaning chemicals,” Eiserman explained. “It really varies depending on what job we’re doing, but all the chemicals that we purchase are industrial grade.”

Using mostly sprays and wipes, the hardworking chemicals can make a cleaning crew’s job more efficient. “If we run into some sticky stuff or grease, we use the degreaser from the kitchen,” she said. “It works well on those tough spots in the bowling center.”

For major cleaning jobs, Eiserman said she is careful not to over-soak equipment or carpets. “A freshly cleaned, but wet carpet is not a good combination for the bowling business,” she said. “We have to be careful of the cleaners we use so the bowling equipment is ready for the players.” To avoid problems, carpets and floors are cleaned during overnight hours after closing, and industrial fans are positioned on areas that need to dry faster.

The cleaning process usually starts from the top down. “We first clean all the tables and equipment,” said Eiserman. “Then we vacuum. The doors and windows are done last and the bathrooms are cleaned daily.”

What keeps the center sparking, she admitted, is a group effort. “All the staff must be involved,” she said. “If you see paper on the floor, pick it up. Garbage in the parking lot? Pick it up. Dirty doors? Clean them. Everyone, not just the cleaning crew, is responsible for keeping the establishment clean.”

But that’s a challenge, admitted Eiserman. She works hard at keeping cleaning a priority for all staffers, especially when it comes to the bathrooms. “No one,” she said, “likes a dirty restroom.”

The Science of Cleaning

At Presidio Bowling Center in the heart of Presidio National Park in San Francisco, Calif., Victor Meyerhoff takes cleaning very seriously. As manager of the popular Bay Area bowling venue, he admits cleaning is a non-stop activity.
“We use a system from 3M called ‘Twist & Fill’ for all of our cleaning fluids,” explained Meyerhoff. Since the center offers not only bowling, but also food, the cleaning items include window, surface and bathroom cleaners, as well as a moping solution, degreaser and surface sanitizer for the kitchen.

“The great thing about the system is that all of the diluting is done automatically by the dispenser,” explained Meyerhoff. “There is no guesswork or chance for error. 3M provides spray bottles that are numbered for the system, so as long as you put solution number two in the dispenser and fill a bottle marked as number two, you can’t make a mistake.” He says the solutions are also color-coordinated to make it even easier for custodial crews to use the correct products for specific jobs, like soda spills. “Dried soda is like glue,” he said. “When not cleaned properly, it makes the whole center dirty.”

Even though Presidio uses a fairly elaborate cleaning system, Meyerhoff said there’s no substitute for wiping and dusting constantly. “We have a porter on duty every evening, seven days a week,” he said. “While the porters’ main responsibility is always customer service, their primary function is to clean, clean, clean.”

For Meyerhoff, the biggest problem he and many other bowling centers face is graffiti. “We fix it right away,” he said.“It can be expensive, but if you leave it, two things can happen. You will get tagged even more often; graffiti promotes graffiti. And once you’ve been tagged, other taggers will try and either cover the original tag or just do theirs bigger.”

He says graffiti turns away otherwise good customers. “They want a safe and clean environment to bring their families,” explained Weyerhoff. “If your restroom is covered in graffiti, eventually they will stop coming in.”

A Matter of Pride

Dave  Kerschner, co-owner of Crazy Pinz Entertainment Center in Fort Wayne, Ind., pays for 70 hours of cleaning service each week. The 50,000-square-foot space not only houses 32 bowling lanes, but also a nine-hole miniature golf course and three-story water park for kids, as well as a full-service bar and restaurant.

“We take a lot of pride in keeping it clean,” said Kerschner, starting with the parking lot. “That’s the first thing people see,” he said. And having spent almost 12 years as a proprietor, he admitted that first impressions are often the most important.

At Crazy Pinz, Kerschner said the cleaning crew (one that comes in 32 hours a week just to work on the floors, and another that works five hours each night on the entire facility) uses products from Wayne Concept Manufacturing Company. The products include professional-grade detergents and cleaners for surfaces and floors.

“We constantly stay on top of the staff, as well,” said Kerschner. “If we see one of our attendants without a rag in his hand, he gets a talking to.” Kerschner and two other associates also regularly do walk-through inspections of the facility to ensure proper cleanliness and safety.

Teen nights can especially take a toll on the center. “On these nights,” he said, “we always have plenty of bubble gum to get out of the carpets.” -

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