Amusement and Waterpark Food Service
Responding to Last Season’s Decreased Guest Spending

Amusement park and waterpark guests’ per cap spending has been sliding up and down from park to park in the last few years. To enliven spending on food, value for the dollar is one of the main ingredients on many projected park menus for the 2011 season.

Though the economy hit in-park spending hard at Wild Rivers in Irvine Calif., during the 2010 season, Clark Hutton, director of food service, created some new items that enticed guests to step away from their coolers and up to the food counter. The barbecue chicken pizza and Mexican style steak tacos proved worthy new additions to the menu as did the Funnel Cake Sundae, Hutton’s concocted swirl of funnel cake bits, soft serve ice cream and strawberries. “Introduced in late August, as long as it was here, it did well and I didn’t have to special order anything,” Hutton said.

In his six years at the park, Dippin’ Dots have consistently been the number one seller. Hovering close by are chicken tenders, cheese burgers and bacon burgers. Yet Hutton does not rely on the usual fare. “I try to create new items every year. The economy is the challenge. More guests were bringing lunches, going to the picnic area with coolers in their cars. Even if they’d come in and buy lunch, they’re not staying as long, not allowing kids to buy that extra ice cream. They’re very price sensitive. They’ve vocalized they want the park experience cheaper. We’re definitely working on it on a daily basis and take that into consideration for the following season. I do the research to figure something to drive food sales.”

The goal for Raging Waters Sacramento in California is to plump up the food dollar with daily themed specials, especially for pass holders, on top of the assured quick service and quality of product for the best experience possible, said Food and Beverage Manager Jason Molohan.

The 2010 season was his first, and Molohan figured out what guests want during that time. “Pricing is a tough issue as guests spend enough to get in,” he noted, “They went for the quick get it and go – and cheap, snack foods, the nachos, churros,  Icees, fries and pizza slices.”

It felt like summer in Wisconsin, unlike the previous year, and food revenue reflected the fantastic weather at the water and in Dippin’ Dot sales, with the addition of new flavors, at Wisconsin Dells-based Noah’s Ark., said President and co-owner, Tim Gantz. “We’ve been in business for 32 years, so have a good feel for what guests want, try new things, and always look for the next greatest item out there.”

Guests choices confirmed for another year that deep-fried is here to stay, he said. “Guests take the occasion to move away from their diets. It did well and we’ll expand perhaps with additional fryers next year. Fried isn’t the most healthy, but the park visit is time to take a break from the diet.”

Old stand-by favorites, the hamburgers and hot dogs, and chicken sticks, sold well in 2010, and their sales have increased every year.

A survey taken after meals at Family Kingdom in South Myrtle Beach, S.C., revealed that guests are looking for a change from the traditional foods. According to Operations Manager Scott Osborn, “We’re a small park in South Carolina, have the traditional corn dogs and elephant ears. After talking to folks we discovered they want healthy alternatives for the kids, such as apple slices.”

Guests were still going for the sugar, though, as the most sought-after items were candy apples, which in the first year, took off extremely well, as well as caramel apples, and funnel cakes, whereas traditional items such as hamburgers, corn dogs and chicken nuggets were down, Osborn said. “The economy played a part. Once guests got in the park, we saw not only food trend down but games as well. Overall more attendance tickets sold but per cap dropped in 2009 and 2010. They’re there for the rides, not extra add-ons. So for 2011 we’ll change up the traditional food items.”

Eating is about entertainment at Dollywood in Pigeon Forge, Tenn. So why not continue to play the five-foot Big Skillets forward into 2011? Joe Lindsey, director of food services for Dollywood and Dollywood’s Splash Country, explained, “We relied heavily on food items that are unique to Dollywood, especially our five-foot Big Skillets, where guests can see Philly Steaks, Flatbread, Fried Bologna, Sausage and Taters being prepared right before their eyes. The aroma draws people to the outdoor setup and the big skillet captures their attention. It’s entertaining to watch the food prepared and the food sells itself.”

Most guests are surprised by fried bologna, commented Lindsey, and quickly become fans. Hand-dipped corn dogs are also a big hit.

The Big Skillet concept will be expanded in 2011, and the Barbeque & Bluegrass festival will return with ribs by the slab, barbecued chicken and pulled pork on smokers in the park. Staff entertain guests as they barbecue up to 10,000 pounds of ribs on one smoker.

“We also make a 25-pound homemade apple pie that guests love. It’s available by the pie or in a three-pound slice,” Lindsey said. Culinary product offerings that experienced great success in 2010 at SeaWorld Lost Lagoon in San Antonio, Texas, included the All Day Dining Deal, Sesame character breakfast and brunch, and temporary food venues during peak capacity days and special events.

“We’re always looking for ways to streamline our initial purchase pricing of our All Day Dining Deal to make it more efficient for park guests and team members,” said Executive Chef Scott Ronczkowski. He noticed guests were especially attracted to any items that were easily accessible to them such as turkey legs, sausage on a stick and sausage wraps. –

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