Food at Bowling Centers: Advice to Maximize Your Profits

Consumer discretionary income has dwindled with the economy, and furthermore has been divided by even more cost-effective and attractive offers from your competitors.  Consumers are developing into better shoppers and have become much more conscious of how they spend their money.  As a businessperson, it is vital to put your establishment at the forefront of your customer’s mind as the destination of choice for dining.  Equally as important is once you have them in the door, you give them a feel of good quality at a good value and to make them a loyal patron.

There are several ways to create that loyalty and capture your deserved portion of the food and beverage market and up-sell the customer once they are in front of you.

LTOs (limited time offers); frequent diner cards, happy hours and coupons can be extremely effective.  Another approach that can serve two purposes is daily specials.  People’s perception of “specials” is they are getting something more for their dollar.  This also allows you to introduce new menu items to determine whether or not to put them on the menu permanently.

LTOs are very popular and successful for major chains and can be equally successful for you if done properly.  Spend some time to come up with a combo meal or entrée that is unique and appealing.  You could offer a regional or seasonal favorite that is not on your everyday menu or sit down with your chef or kitchen staff to come up with an idea they will feel comfortable and confident they can execute. Signage and marketing are very important to get the customer thinking outside the box of their normal order patterns.  LTOs create a sense of urgency for the customer and nobody wants to miss out on a good opportunity.  This also provides the opportunity to set a different price point but still be perceived as a value to the customer.  LTOs should last 60-90 days, and make sure you are able to measure the success to determine whether to bring it back at a later date or to introduce the item as a permanent menu offering.

Frequent diner cards are another tool to create loyalty and get repeat traffic in your establishment.  These may not have the success of an LTO, but cards definitely provide another value-added perception to the customer; and they feel they are being rewarded for their loyalty.  These reward cards help create a relationship between you and your customer that can easily be acknowledged by you and your staff at the time they order.  Train your staff to pass the cards out to all customers when they order or ask if they have one when they order.

Happy Hours are popular everywhere.  Many times the first thing a customer will ask when ordering alcohol is, “What are your drink specials?” Happy Hour is an excellent vehicle to up-sell your specialty drinks and premium liquors.  The suggestive sale could not be made any easier to your customer, who is basically asking what they should order.  The customer who may typically have a drink or a beer can be persuaded to order premium liquor or a specialty drink if value is perceived and your staff can present the choices with confidence.  Empower your staff to come up with specials, because they are the ones that know what your customers tend to request.  Also, spend time with your liquor or beer sales representative on any promotions.  They can typically provide marketing and point-of-sale material for you at little or no cost.  If your bar area is separate from your food service area, always have menus readily available in the bar or have a posted appetizer menu.  This provides add-on sales as well as helps moderate your customers’ alcohol consumption.  A very effective way to add food sales in your bar area is to offer a “dare to eat” challenge.  A couple of suggestions are a “Mega Pizza challenge” or an “Ultimate Nacho Platter.”  Competition drives interest; and more importantly profits.

Our society has always been trained that coupons equate to value.  Coupons for dining should be designed to drive add-on sales, such as appetizers and desserts.  If you are going to offer an entrée on your coupon it should be a BOGO (buy one get one free).  This can drive in more customers that may not ordinarily eat at your establishment.  However, offering appetizers or desserts can drive future food sales on these high-profit items that may ordinarily not be ordered by your regular customers.  If you are going to put the effort to rollout a coupon campaign, make it attractive not only to your existing customer base, but also to drive in new business.  You can achieve this by bundling games with food and beverage such as, “Large one-topping pizza, pitcher of Pepsi and two games of bowling for $29.99.”  This type of offer will attract the customer that is not only going to dine out during an evening on the town, but also customers looking to make their dollar go farther.  The coupons should have a 90-day expiration date to once again create urgency to the consumer, particularly the new customer.

All of these methods can help you boost your food service profits with very little additional cost. The key factor is to spend time to do it properly and utilize your vendors and staff for ideas and materials, then measure the success of the program to determine future trends of the food and beverage portion of your business.

(Scott Brown is the BPAA Foodservice Account Manager. Reach him at

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