By Karen Appold
When hosting a birthday party, there are lots of things a bowling center can do to make it a huge success. Allison Jennings, general manager, WOW! Zone Family Entertainment Center, Mankato, Minn., schedules a host to work at each party. The host is responsible for keeping all activities on track, ordering food and drinks, and for party setup and cleanup. “Our staff builds a connection with the guests and interacts with the group,” she says. Prior to the event, staff work with the customer to make sure they have detailed information about the party plans as well as food and beverage choices.
Derek Dukes, general manager, Southgate Lanes, Bluffton, Ohio, said the party coordinator should ask the customer to tell them about their type of group. For example, is the group looking to party with loud music and get wild? Or is the group more reserved? This information will help the manager know what type of environment to expect and prepare for.
Big Al’s, with locations in Vancouver, Wash., Beaverton, Ore., Meridian, Id., and Ontario, Calif., has party packages for celebrations. They can be customized with themes, food, bowling, arcade, pool, shuffleboard and bar options. Visitation is rising at each location, which Carla Morgan, events manager, attributed to brand awareness and brand loyalty.
From his experience with birthday parties for adults, Marko Petronijevic, general manager, Bowlmor Times Square, New York, N.Y., recommended that the customer order plenty of appetizers, because guests like to munch when they arrive. Promoting an open bar package is a great idea as well, so guests don’t have to worry about multiple tabs on site. The center typically sees more guests from September through April than during the summer months, from May through August.
Cindy Dragwa, manager, Valley Bowling Lanes, Childs, Pa., said that as a local family owned and operated business, the center makes every effort to tailor adult birthday parties to the family’s requests. “We feel that this sets us apart, because it is not one cookie cutter package for all events,” she said. “We realize that everyone has their own visions of the perfect celebration, and we try to make all of them a reality.” During the fall and winter months (October through March), foot traffic peaks at the center. In the summer months, warm weather slows attendance a bit.
Candy Petrovits, office manager, Lord Calvert Bowling, Huntingtown, Md., said the center has standard packages, but customization is also an option. Customers can choose from a fully stocked bar and full grill and catering menus. Thanks to a new sound system, music can also be customized. Dollar wise, proceeds at the center are up. “A lot of that is through repeat customers for birthday parties,” she said.
Christina Black, manager, The District, Durant, Okla., said she asks guests what activities they are interested in, and then caters their party package to the group’s interests.
Steve Mackie, co-owner, Tenpins & More, Rio Rancho, N.M., said the center has a designated party room that can seat up to 80 guests. It’s an open room with half-size walls, so guests can stand on the concourse and watch what is going on.
Going All Out for Kids’ Parties
Some of the best children’s birthday parties Dukes has seen feature a bunch of accessories. Balloons, gift bags and themed decorations are all great ideas to spice up a child’s party at a bowling center. Some larger family entertainment centers have these options built into different pricing tiers already, making it easy for customers to pick and choose a theme.
Dukes reported that the center’s customer base has grown every year for the last four years. It has total weekly traffic of around 1,300 visitors. “We try to do one big upgrade every year, such as a bar upgrade, scoring system upgrade or just painting and changing carpet,” he said. “When visitors see that their money is going back into the business, they appreciate the money they spend with us and have a better overall experience.”
Another tip is to choose the right snacks. “Kids love sweets, so be sure to mention what group options you have such as sundae bars or cake or cupcake options,” Dukes said
As with the adult parties, Jennings says it’s important to have a dedicated host for children’s birthday parties. “It can be overwhelming for parents to watch eight to 15 kids,” she said. “The host can assist parents with the children. Our staff help to keep kids on track, follow rules, keep them together with their group and answer questions about activities. Hosts can join in on the fun at the kids’ request.”
Dragwa and her staff try to make a child’s party as stress free as possible for the family. “We feel that every parent who has parties outside of the home does so because they want to enjoy their child’s big day without stress or mess,” she said. “We handle all aspects of the party and provide all supplies to make the experience effortless for the family and most enjoyable for the child.”
If the child is present when booking the party, Black suggested letting them choose the color scheme for the party room and the activities (such as bowling, laser tag or arcade) that they enjoy. Although visitation is currently flat, it is building as more customers become aware of the entertainment complex, which opened in 2015.
Mackie said the birthday child receives a retired bowling pin that all guests sign or a new monogrammed one can be purchased for $15.
Make a birthday party a memorable occasion at your bowling center by employing some of these tips.