Selling More Fun Foods – Perspectives from Family Entertainment Centers

By Jen Heller Meservey

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Jessica Carden, assistant manager, Emerald Hills Golfland, making a bubble gum Iceberg Shake

Family entertainment centers are all about fun, even when it comes to food. After hours of bowling, skating, golf, laser tag or go-karts, customers are ready for a quick bite that keeps the fun going. At most family entertainment centers, the best-selling fun foods are the classics. “Nachos and cheese, pizza, warm soft pretzels, popcorn and slushies would be the favorites,” said John Young, owner of Just Fun Family Entertainment Center in Hamburg, N.Y. Young said his center recently introduced some new fun food menu items in time for the new year. “We have tried funnel cakes and fried dough with some success,” he said.

“Our top-selling foods are pizza and wings,” said Olivia Bishop, general manager of Wild River Family Entertainment Center in Somerton, Ariz. Bishop said Wild River plans to introduce an interesting new fun food menu item in 2015. “The new foods we will be featuring are Indian fry breads with topping choices,” she said.

“Our top-selling fun food by far is pizza,” said John McGray, internet communications director at Funspot in Laconia, N.H. “A distant second would be French fries.” McGray said while they have considered introducing soft serve to the Funspot menu, currently they’re sticking with local frozen delicacies. “We offer a variety of pre-made hard ice cream treats produced by a local dairy,” he said.

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Scott Branvold, cashier, photographed with an icee at Emerald Hills Golfland.

Soft serve items are a huge success at Emerald Hills Golfland in San Jose, Calif., according to Assistant Manager Jessica Carden. “Our top-selling fun food is definitely our Iceberg Shakes,” said Carden. “They are huge and come in so many different flavors.” Carden believes that the success of Iceberg Shakes is due to their many flavor options. “We have a wide range of flavors like bubble gum, cotton candy, eggnog, Nutella, cookie dough, cookies and cream, peanut butter and jelly and so many more,” she explained. “We are also able to customize them by allowing our customers to combine up to three flavors in one shake. We start off with a vanilla or chocolate soft serve base, and then we add in various toppings to create the shake. After we spin it in our mixer, the product is a wonderful thick ice cream shake that tastes like perfection.” Carden said she never tires of watching customer reactions to their famous shakes. “I love seeing the looks on our customers’ faces when they see how gigantic these shakes are,” she said. “We treat it as an art form so that every shake creates that ‘wow’ factor for our customers.”

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Jessica Carden, assistant manager, Emerald Hills Golfland in San Jose, Calif., photographed in the kitchen. “Our top-selling fun food is definitely our Iceberg Shakes,” she said.

Out of all of the Iceberg Shake flavors, Carden said that cookies and cream is the most popular. “Our best-selling soft serve product is definitely our cookies and cream Iceberg Shake,” she said. “It is a mixture of vanilla soft serve and crushed up bits of Oreo cookies. It is delicious!”

Frozen treats are also popular at Kentucky Shores Family Fun Center in Gilbertsville, Ky., according to Owner Tom Erwin. “We have developed a very tasty popsicle which we call Poly Pops,” he said. “It is a fresh, handmade popsicle made of fruits and other secret ingredients.”

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Ann Nakamura, supervisor, Emerald Hills Golfland, making a soft serve ice cream cone.

Erwin said that customers love the wide variety of Poly Pops flavors. “We have strawberry, banana, peach, sweet and sour orange and chili cucumber,” he said. “People have been known to drive for several miles just to get one of our Poly Pops.”

When it comes to soft serve, Erwin said he chose to go a different route. “As far as ice cream is concerned, we chose Dippin’ Dots,” he explained. “This decision was not only based on the novelty of this great ice cream, but also because we are located within a few miles of the home corporate office and manufacturing facility in Paducah, Ky.” Erwin said that this unique choice has worked out well for his center. “Both of our tasty treats have been very good sellers for us.”