Family Entertainment Center Trends for 2011 and Beyond

June 1, 2011 No Comments

The Industry Owls is a group of independent consultants, operators, trainers and educators who have come together with one purpose: to challenge the way you think. Their unique experience and expertise combines with an abundance of wisdom in the family entertainment and leisure industries to produce articles to help you become more successful in your business. Here, three of the Industry Owls writers share their ideas on the most significant Family Entertainment Center trends for 2011 and beyond.

Family Entertainment Center Trends and Tired Practices

By Frank Seninsky

The FEC industry is the third leading growth potential sector in the United States.  That is for those that continue to invest in upgrading their attractions and services and remove “tired” attractions (or upgrade them).  In today’s challenging economy, your facility is only as good as your customer’s last visit.

Biggest FEC Trends

Great customer service is now “expected.” We are in the “Let’s Make a Deal” mode so individual and family discount packages are a must. Every customer wants to feel like they are getting a deal, so you must get used to playing that game.

Ropes Courses: This is the latest new major attraction for both outdoor and indoor FECs.

Attractions with small footprints and low price. The top ones are: Lazer Frenzy by Creative Works  (8-foot-by-18-foot minimum) at a cost of $45,000.00; Interactive – Educational Water Attractions for both indoor and outdoor – “Aquativity” by Funtraptions is making a big splash in this sector; Mini Bowling (pair of lanes takes up 10 foot by 43 foot), Highway 66 (QubicaAMF) and Rollerball (US Bowling) are the leading models at an approximate cost of $55,000 to $60,000; Spider Zone by Extreme Engineering (10 foot by 20 foot) at a cost of $15,000; laser tag multi-level upgrades (laser tag is still a strong anchor attraction and many improvements have been made during the past few years); and electric bumper cars have been much improved;

Debit Card Systems: Almost every new FEC is opening with a debit card system in place these days. The prices are coming down slightly (it still ranges around $1000/game when everything is included).  The good news is that there are new game tracking systems coming to market that will cost only a fraction of a debit card system, such as GameALERT.  This is a way to get the information needed to run an efficient operation and use the increased revenues and labor savings to “save” for getting a debit card system in the future.

Tired Practices and Attractions

  • Old video games that are generating less than $40/week.
  • Cramming too many games into a game zone so the players and spectators bump into each other.
  • Not giving the customers a “fair” value for the money they spend in your facility.
  • Service without a smile.
  • Any attraction that has worn parts or any broken components.

(Frank Seninsky is President/CEO Amusement Entertainment Management (AEM), Reach him at

Serving the Discriminating Consumer

By Randy White

The Great Recession with its birth of the frugal consumer who is demanding more value for their money accelerated many FEC trends that emerged as early as a decade ago. Today, consumers are more discriminating with both their time and money. This has resulted in FECs putting more focus on customer service in order to improve the overall guest experience and upgrading their interior finishes and atmospheres to enhance their appeal.

The new entertainment competition from inexpensive home electronic games, including gesture-based ones, as well as other forms of at-home digital entertainment, has resulted in the need for FECs to offer experiences that are unachievable at home. Socialization is really the key driver of FEC visits, not the entertainment. To enhance FECs as social destinations, there is a growing trend to add destination dining with far more sophisticated and higher quality food offerings than the old concession stand or snack bar. When you look at the evergreen concepts in the industry that have stood the test of time, such as Dave & Buster’s and Chuck E. Cheese’s, they all generate approximately 50 percent of their sales from food and beverages. We are seeing an increased focus on designing for group socialization, with some FECs generating as much as 60 percent of their business from large groups. Indoor FECs without quality food and beverage and not designed for group business are becoming the dinosaurs of the industry.

One nascent trend that runs counter to the very name “family entertainment center” is designing for adults and including a bar with alcohol. In most cases, if you design for adults, you still get the family as a secondary concept. Even for children’s centers, we are seeing an increased emphasis on enhancing their appeal to the parents who come with the kids.

The hottest attraction today is upscale bowling with video masking units, comfortable seating that encourages food and beverage purchases and VIP lanes. Many have no gameroom. Ballocity and laser tag are growing in popularity as anchor attractions for larger centers. Ropes courses, Laser Frenzy and mini-bowling have become the mini-anchors to have. A recent trend that is still below the radar is restaurant-bocce centers.

(Randy White is CEO, White Hutchinson Leisure & Learning Group,

Finding the Right People for the Right Jobs

By Alan Fluke

Trend: finding the right people for the right jobs. Considering the present state of the job market, we, like most businesses, have the greatest opportunity for the selection of qualified applicants for positions of leadership in our companies.  Hiring the right candidates is as important as raising capital or finding a lender for new construction or expansion, what attractions to select, how many square feet you need, even the type of food to serve.  A business is only as good as the people working in it.  Success can only be measured once you have hired the right people for the right jobs.

How do you go about finding the right people with outstanding leadership qualities that are results oriented?  Putting an ad on craigslist or a job board posting is going to drive these candidates to your door step, but are they the right candidates? First you must define what the requirements for the position are, then create a job description that clearly outlines all the responsibilities of the position and the outcome desired. Topics such as the following need to be included:

  • Goals of the company; such as budgets, food and labor cost, safety, computer or mechanical skill set;
  • The specifics of the position, what is it that they are exactly supposed to be doing on a day-to-day, week-to-week and month-to-month basis;
  • How performance will be measured;
  • Who does the position report to in the organizational structure of your business;
  • Is the individual on their feet all day, how much weight must they be able to lift, is critical and strategic thinking a necessary part of the job, risk management and safety awareness;

The list goes on. Of course, the level of the position will dictate the specifics of the job description and its length. Put great effort into these for every position in your business and little by little you will stop hearing, “I didn’t know that.”

(Alan Fluke is President of AEA and Managing Partner/COO Sparians Bowling Boutique & Bistro. Reach him at


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