Fast Food Fever
September 1, 2011
Guests Still Want Classic Park Foods
As concessions manager at Pirate’s Cove Family Fun Aquatic Center in Englewood, Colo., Leslie Boersma has endured some teasing for packing her lunch every day.
“People have made fun of me for that,” said Boersma. “But it’s so hard to find something healthy to eat at an amusement park.”
After a while, the powers that be at Pirate’s Cove began to wonder if other park visitors felt the same way as Boersma did. As a result, the park has introduced some healthy menu options for the 2011 season, including Italian and Ranch salads and strawberry, blueberry and pineapple fruit cups.
“They’re doing well,” Boersma said. “It’s hard, because for items like that, you have to order just enough, but not so much that it doesn’t go bad.”
Despite this positive foray into health-conscious foods at the park, Boersma acknowledged that classic fatty fare continues to reign supreme with the amusement park public.
“Our individual pizzas and funnel cakes are our best sellers,” she said. “Visitors aren’t allowed to bring pizzas and funnel cakes into the park, and our pizzas are made fresh.”
Boersma said another new addition this season is an Icee machine, which has proven to be a popular choice for beating the summer heat. A churro machine introduced last season has begun to gain momentum this year as well, she said.
“I think we just weren’t advertising the churros well enough last year,” Boersma said. “They cook up well and they’re doing better this year.”
According to Michael Fishman, managing partner at Thunder Falls Waterpark in Birmingham, Mich., visitors to his park favor the kinds of foods that would make a dietician cry: pizza, chili cheese fries with Detroit Coney sauce and a multitude of Slushees.
“Everyone is on vacation when they come here; they’re not counting calories,” Fishman said. “If you can’t enjoy yourself on a nice sunny day at a waterpark, you can’t enjoy yourself anywhere.”
Fishman said his park, which averages 60,000 visitors per year, has added two new Slushee machines this season. The machines, supplied by Pepsi, feature coffee and vanilla-flavored Slushees. “The new flavors are doing great,” he said.
For the 2012 season, Fishman said the park plans to introduce grilled cheese sandwiches, with or without tomatoes, and peanut butter and jelly. These classic sandwiches are known to appeal to kids, Fishman said.
“They also appeal to me,” he said.
Cold foods and beverages are an intuitive and always-popular choice at WildWater Adventure in Muskegon, Mich., according to Food Service Manager Rob June. “Ice cream and ice cream-based foods are very refreshing on a hot day, obviously,” June said. “We also have introduced two new drink locations in our park that sell Icees. Visitors can buy souvenir vessels and fill them with whatever they want.”
Finger foods are also top-selling items for park visitors, who are often on the go, June said.
“I’d have to say French fries and other finger foods are our best sellers, for two reasons,” June said. “One is that there is a shorter wait time in line, and the other is that people can walk around the park and eat them on the way to the next location.”
Chili cheese fries and ice cream, two foods that seem very much on the opposite ends of the food spectrum, have one thing in common: they share top concession billing at Red Oaks Waterpark in Madison Heights, Mich. According to Sue Girardin, food service manager, these items are just what visitors crave at the end of a hot, active day.
“At the end of the night everyone comes in for our soft serve ice cream,” she said. “And the French fries, they’re not soggy, they’re crispy, and the chili makes it more of a meal. By the time they get out of that pool, they’re starving.”
Girardin said the park has no plans to cut any of its current menu items for the 2012 season, but added that chicken strips are under consideration for next year.
“We sold chicken strips before, and they were very popular,” she said of the park, which averages between 70,000 and 80,000 guests annually. “So we might add them again.”
Pizza is the hands-down winner in terms of fast foods at Zehnder’s Splash Village in Frankenmuth, Mich.
“Certainly our pizza is, far and away, our best seller,” said Al Zehnder, CEO of the company. “We do a hand-topped pizza with fresh toppings and homemade sauce. We make every pizza fresh.”
In terms of introducing new menu items for the 2012 season, Zehnder said the park is constantly revising its menu based on customer tastes.
“We’re always playing with our menu,” he said. “We added some gourmet hamburgers at our latest venue. We always take the weakest items off, and we replace them with better ones, or don’t replace them. We always listen to the guests.”
Listening to guests, or even just watching them, has taught Diana Rodriguez quite a few things. Rodriguez, waterpark manager at Calypso Bay waterpark in Royal Palm Beach, Fla., knows exactly what visitors like to eat at the park, which averages 75,000 to 80,000 visitors per year.
“French fries are a classic,” she said. “They’re popular with both kids and adults. Everyone likes them.” -