Food Line Speed:
Keeping Guests Focused on the Meal, Not the Wait

For amusement park guests, standing in the food line is probably not the best part of the day. But a combination of serving methods, equipment and staff training can usher guests through the line at optimum speed.
Amidst so much excitement and fun, decision making may not be a strong point many guests bring to the park experience. “Combo meals take the guess work out of ordering,” said Bob Amoruso, food and beverage manager at Long Island Adventureland in Farmingdale, N.Y., where close to 400,000 guests visit annually. And the ventless, hoodless, Autofry contained fryer system is a boon for the host of fried food orders taken at the outside stands.
To reduce the odds of any delay, cashiers are trained to complete the ordering process correctly, repeating the change due amount back to the guest, leaving large bills on top of the register until the change is in the customer’s hand before putting it in the drawer.
Upon receipt of food shipments at Yogi Bears Jellystone Park in Grand Haven, Mich., said General Manager Donald Moore, they are broken down into serving sizes that can be presented to guests simply and straight forwardly, prepacked for easy in and out options. Also at the ready for preparing the commonly popular amusement park foods are the fryers, quick stoves, popcorn poppers and cotton candy machines. The third component of efficient service, once food choices and their equipment counterparts are in place, is worker capability to handle the onslaught of large crowds and training of key people in key places at key times. “We conduct on-the-spot quick drills so they know where everything is located, get things put away properly, and get food out in a quick and timely manner,” Moore said.
Training sessions for food preparation and serving at Busch Gardens/Adventure Island in Tampa, Fla., involve a combination of methods, including classroom instruction, video and hands-on experience. The speed develops, said Fred Zielinski, director of culinary operations, from a unit by unit orientation on each menu item, as trainees become familiarized with the specific items they will prepare on the line.  
The training intensive together with practices within the culinary department smooth the way for guests to be fed promptly. As Zielinski enumerated, first, the menu mix is an easily prepared assortment of grab and go items rather than any that involve making special or custom orders. Secondly, he said, “We stay ahead by having the product in the window for guests to see and not have to wait for us to get it to them, especially with drinks.” And third, having enough cashiers at check out is crucial, which at Busch, is at the end of the line. “Insufficient cashiers holds up the line.”
The heat wells and warming units keep food items such as sandwiches, burgers and fries hot as well as maintain maximum shelf life to be swiftly ready as needed.
“The walkup window menu doesn’t give a ton of choices, rather provides straight to the point options to make decisions faster,” said Aaron Banks, director of food and beverage at Carowinds in Charlotte, N.C. In addition, workers are taught the suggestive selling technique that encourages guests to buy a souvenir cup in lieu of having to determine small or medium size. An incentives program spurs cashiers to be aware of transactions per hour, or challenge them to achieve the most transactions per hour.
To augment the pace, turbo drink machines fill cups quickly. For sales of product such as funnel cakes, said Banks, “We know how much business to expect at certain times of day. At 5, we keep five to six cakes in the window versus earlier in the day, we cook to order.” At the cafeteria style locations, drinks are pre-poured for grab and go service and a point person at the beginning of the line helps guests decide on menu items and navigates others around that person.
Two trainers, one for associates and one for supervisors, are instrumental to line efficiency. In the park during operation hours, trainers work along with and supervising staff. Supervisors on location observe line movement. Also full time staff carry watches to time line speed.
Historical data informs Food Service Manager Mohamed Tarawali how much to ratchet up the staffing at Six Flags America in Upper Marlboro, Md. The same type of information can also determine what time to open extra registers, add cashiers and cooks and even extra condiments. “We know how much we made of an item at 11 o’clock last year to do the same this year and create charts, to make sure we have “x” amount of burgers for the rush. You’re already a step behind if you wait until the crowd is there.”
The overall strategy at Kings Dominion in Doswell, Va., is to transition away from belly-up service of taking orders, to cafeteria style self service, said Jacob Rhoten, director of food and beverage. “There are no choices except what’s in front of you and the toppings for items such as hot dogs. The register cashier is the guest contact point.”
Brief incentive programs are often the impetus for workers to quicken the pace. The person who brings in the most money during lunch or reaches a target amount such as $1,000, wins a gift card or a free lunch. “With this generation, when sharing goals, they buy in to it more if we explain why, and telling how much money to work towards gets better participation.”
During the training process, employees are reminded to “work the cafeteria line, to make sure each guest has your piece of the puzzle, so that a line that slows can keep moving.” They learn to expedite line movement by pre-pouring top selling drinks during a surge in business, and to help with portion control for self-serve catering events, so guests aren’t scooping up exorbitant amounts of BBQ, for example.
Also helpful with productivity, portion control and line movement is the pizza saucer machine. It dispenses sauce, making a consistent product, allows workers to be on the line instead of allocating sauce, and lets guests take the next piece out rather than search for the best one.
Adding more registers keeps the guest line flowing at Clementon Park and Splash World in Clementon, N.J., which in turn shortens the wait to be served and eases the guest’s mind, said Terri Dreyer, director of revenue. “And a well established stand-trained crew working together and communicating with each other keeps lines flowing.” Dreyer also suggested simplicity of menu for easy guest decision-making and cashier-only managed cash registers.
The equipment that comes to the aid of workers on the run are gas fryers and grills, much more reliable and consistent in temperature control than electric versions, warmers and heat lamps for adequate prepared food quantity during busy times, and for large catered events, said Dreyer, “You can’t beat a convection oven when it comes to preparing a lot of food at once.”
Before a season starts Dreyer gathers employees together to familiarize them with the stand that they will work in, reviewing each station to explain and demonstrate why it is essential to the overall operation.
A practice run using fake money exchanged between staged employees who act as customers and the food employees serves to “get their feet wet.” And a seasoned stand lead is placed, there to constantly assist and lead.
Relieving pressure of a hungry crowd is a joint effort that also speeds service without taking a toll on staff. –

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