Business Strategies: Planning the Perfect Special Event

May 3, 2011

Special events can generate significant revenue for leisure entertainment facilities of all kinds. However, the business can get out of hand—or never really become viable—unless a few key strategies are always followed.

One critical piece of this puzzle is going to great lengths to find out as many details as possible about the event, from the preferences of the organizer, to the temperament/type of guests, to whether there are specific objectives the customer wants to achieve. For example, does the customer (or, in the case of a child’s party, the guest of honor) have a favorite food that absolutely must be incorporated into the menu? Are there foods he or she absolutely does not want served? If it is a company party, is it a team-building event, a reward for good performance, or a traditional social gathering? Who, if anyone, is the person being feted, and what is that person like? “Event venues often forget something on this list, only to have to scramble later to have their questions answered,” said Linda Kaye, owner of New York City, N.Y.-based Partymakers. Kaye, whose firm serves as the official party planner for New York City’s Central Park Zoo and the American Museum of Natural History, noted that the more information facilities gather and the earlier they gather it, the higher the potential for planning a perfect—or near-perfect—event.

To this end, the American Museum of Natural History provides prospective party hosts with a comprehensive questionnaire that covers the above bases. Similarly, individuals wishing to book events at Brooklyn Bowl in Brooklyn, N.Y., fill out and submit online a questionnaire that asks them to describe, in detail, what they would “like to do;” it gets them closer to their vision faster, according to Owner Peter Shapiro. When this happens, minor slip-ups become a bit less significant.

Of course, food is a critical component of most, if not all, special events—and flexibility is key. Bowlmor Ltd., which operates upscale Bowlmor Lanes bowling facilities in New York City, N.Y. (Union Square, Times Square and Coney Island); Tustin and Cupertino, Calif.; Bethesda, Md.; and Miami, Fla.;  caters to a wide swath of special event types and customers, from those holding corporate events to birthday parties, Sweet Sixteens, and Bar and Bat Mitzvahs. Accordingly, its special events menu is quite varied; for instance, in New York City, options range from killer grilled cheese and a “taco trio” to steamed shrimp dumplings, salmon brushetta and an artisanal cheese platter. The American Museum of Natural History has no set menu, Kaye stated, rather, catering works with clients to come up with completely customized menus based on personal preferences, budgets and more.

Similarly, at all Dave & Buster’s locations, drinks may be served by the ticket, glass or tray, depending on the client, and service is available buffet-style or by the platter.

Often it works to match not only food, but décor to the facility itself. For one corporate event held at the Ellis Island Immigration Museum in New York City, the menu was “Americana”-themed, featuring classic American cooking, such as roasted spring lamb, and a range of regional items. Guests were served dinner in the museum’s main hall, where the event planning department had set up two long, rectangular banquet tables, positioned parallel to each other and topped with deep-blue linen, white china, blue water glasses and rose-filled candelabra.

Just as important as understanding guests’ needs and putting together the right food assortment is helping customers who are planning a special event to make the most of the facility at which it is being held. At Boscobel House and Gardens in Garrison, N.Y., Wedding and Event Coordinator Colleen Fogarty explains to prospective customers how certain elements of individual rooms—such as the fireplace mantels in the exhibition gallery—can be enhanced to suit a particular theme. A portable panel system is provided for those organizers who want the flexibility to divide the room. “Extras”—such as tours of the gardens for attendees of events that are slated to be held outdoors—are available as well.

Meanwhile, individuals who are organizing special events at the aircraft carrier USS Midway in San Diego, Calif., are encouraged to take advantage of lesser-known spaces for certain functions; for example, there is a mess deck and wardroom that are perfect for smaller groups of 30 to 100 people, said Sales Director Pat Pfohl. “We also encourage people to take advantage of our variety of docent-led tours, which cover everything from what it was like to work the mess facility, to the brig, to launching and recovering aircraft off the deck,” Pfohl noted.

Planning the perfect special event also means knowing when to say “no”—whether for the safety of guests, the facility, or both. In working on a party for a zoological society, Tatiana Alvarez, special events consultant at Dave & Busters in Hollywood, Fla., was asked whether live animals could be brought into the venue. She told the client that there were “probably about 1,000 health department and other rules” that would preclude this option; instead, animal themes were incorporated into the décor.

Industry News

Comfyland Edutainment Centers: Bringing Education and Entertainment Together for Young Children

Young children between the ages of 1-5 are often overlooked as a market for a family entertainment center. For those centers that do include a toddler play area, it is often as simple as a soft-play area where toddlers can climb and play without fear of being overrun by the older kids. However, a 1 to 2 year old is only able to sustain attention to one structured activity for no more than 2-3 minutes. After that they may become restless. By the time they are 4, a child can usually attend to an activity for 8-10 minutes.

Edutainment Activity Systems, like the Comfy Edutainment Center (Comfyland Experience), are finding broad appeal in a variety of markets that include Family Entertainment Centers, Fitness Centers, Children’s Museums, Campgrounds, Preschools and Shopping Centers. Its unique balance of technological, physical interaction and cognitive activity is an attractive solution for locations that are looking to address the needs of young children in a way that appeals to the parent and engages the child for more than a few moments. The center exposes children to age-appropriate activities in a safe surrounding that is based on a Developmental Cycle: Curiosity, Challenge and Confidence. A leading architect specializing in planning FECs has designed the whole complex with its unique outer design of three “C” sections, each presenting a different theme corner – the Senses Corner, the Music Corner and the Cognitive Corner, in a maze-like structure, attracting the toddler to go through the different corners, and providing a dynamic, mental and physical voyage of investigation and exploration.

Giggleberry Fair at Peddlers Village, located in Lahaska, Pa., is a shining example of a location that has brought fun and education together for the entire family. In addition to the spectacularly restored Grand Carousel, this 10,000-square-foot attraction houses Giggleberry Mountain, the Game Room, the Painted Pony Café, and the newest attraction, Giggles Discovers!

A mother and child play computer games on the Comfy Car.

The late Earl Jamison, founder/creator of Peddler’s Village and grandfather of 18, strived to provide a wholesome, quality experience for children to be both educated and entertained. His goal was to create activities that children and adults alike would love, as well as activities that the entire family would enjoy together.  With five interactive “edutainment” areas making up the Giggles Discovers! room, they successfully merged fun with learning and have provided something exciting for an age group that is often overlooked.

  • The Comfyland Experience provides a mental and physical voyage of investigation and exploration for toddlers and preschool children 1 to 5 years old.
  • The Giggles Fire Station #1 encourages children to explore an authentic wooden fire truck, ring the fire bell, put on fire hats, jackets and boots, learn about community helpers from the fire safety videos and engage in all sorts of exciting fire-safety activities!
  • Lightspace Play is a wall-mounted entertainment system that combines the latest display and interactive technologies to produce a recreational experience that will provide hours of fun for children of all ages.
  • Children can stretch their dramatic imaginations and create make-believe puppet shows with new puppet friends at the Puppet Stage.
  • The Waterway provides interactive water fun with a Water Mushroom Fountain, Dam Tabs, Build-a-Pipes, Waterwheels, Horizontal Sprinklers, Water Currents Cilia and a Vertical Torricelli Pipes for lots of creative water play.

Images of the Giggleberry Fair location

“Giggleberry Fair was founded on the principles of bringing education and play together in one place,” said Julia Ryan, general manager of Giggleberry Fair. “Children do not realize the cognitive benefits derived from playing with attractions like Comfyland or the water table.”

The Giggles Discovers attraction

Comfy has integrated an “Easy PC” system into their activity center that allows toddlers as young as 12 months to enjoy computer edutainment through products designed to fit the motor and perceptional abilities and support the developmental needs of toddlers. The system makes toddlers feel comfortable with computer use and enables endless hours of independent play.

“Recently we had a teacher visit our center and comment how great the Giggles Discover room and Comfyland was for young children,” said Ryan. “She noted that most of the activities in an entertainment center are overwhelming to a young child or toddler. Having an area just for them provides the right balance of stimulus and creates a sense of belonging.”

For more information about Giggleberry Fair, contact Julie Ryan at 215-794-4047 or email or visit their Web site

For information about Comfy Edutainment Centers, go to or contact Frank Seninsky at Alpha-Omega Amusements & Sales, Comfy Edutainment Center’s US Distributor, at or call 732-254-3773 or contact Tracy Sarris at 717-533-1945 or email

Bright and inviting, the Comfy attraction inspires imaginative play.

Obituary: Gordon M. Smart, 79

Gordon M. Smart

Gordon M. Smart, 79, passed away peacefully at home on April 21, 2011. A Memorial visitation was scheduled for April 29 in Des Moines, Iowa. It was Gordon’s wish to be cremated and his ashes will be interred at the Iowa Veterans Cemetery in a private family ceremony.

Gordon was born on January 18, 1932 in Creston, Iowa to John Thomas Smart and Mary Leona Hewson Smart Harrison. He was the survivor of a set of twins born prematurely. In 1948, he entered the United States Army. With the exception of his military service, Gordon spent his entire life in Iowa, primarily in the Des Moines area.

In 1951, in Lehigh, Iowa, he married Lavonne Ball, with whom he had two children, Jeffrey Thomas Smart and Nancy Smart Singh. They divorced in 1992 and he married Mary M. Sharratt in January of 1998. Gordon was the founder of Smart Industries, a manufacturer of coin operated amusement games, and continued work there until his passing.

He was preceded in death by his parents and by his twin brother, Jerome Melvin Smart. Gordon is survived by his wife of 13 years, Mary Smart; son, Jeff Smart (May) of Altoona; daughter, Nancy Singh of West Des Moines; six grandchildren, Jessica Lavonne Smart, Kellie Lynn Smart, Andrea Nicole Smart Wyllie (Corey), Jason Thomas Smart, Paul John Smart (Danielle), Sydney Ann Singh, Jennifer Lavonne Singh; and seven great-grandchildren.

Memorial contributions may be made to the John Stoddard Cancer Center, Iowa Health Hospice, the Variety Club of Iowa, or the Iowa Veterans Cemetery.

“Dad wanted me to let you all know that he truly treasured the many great friendships that he developed over his many years within the industry,” Jeff Smart said.

Getting Lost Together Helps Families Grow Closer

Families are smaller than they used to be, but are they any closer? Many parents these days feel disconnected from their children, who have their eyes glued to electronic gadgets for constant entertainment and a full plate of scheduled activities to boot.

Even when families spend time together on vacations, it’s difficult to get kids to put away their cell phones and X Box games and actually relate to each other. Advanced technology has made our lives easier in some ways, but has also made our lives busier, stealing lots of family “together time.”

Board games have seen a surge in popularity lately because they encourage face-to-face interaction, bonding, laughter and fun memories. Kids, parents and grandparents can enjoy games together; it seems we never outgrow them! They also promote cooperation and problem solving and can help reduce stress (and the chances of developing dementia later in life).

Human mazes, giant board games with humans as the game pieces, have risen in popularity because they do double duty as a fun game and a race against time. Players must move through a labyrinth of passageways and climb up lookouts to solve the maze, and this provides exercise – another missing component in many family activities.

Prizes are awarded based on the time it took to collect the letters M-A-Z-E, and the lower the time, the better the prize. Fair-goers will return to see if they can do better – and they get hooked on it! Add squirt guns for warmer weather locations and you have a zero-depth water attraction.

The giant mazes are much less expensive than the average amusement park ride with no mechanical parts to repair or replace, and the best part for the owner? This attraction can be run with only one or two employees.

“Mazes are the ultimate low-technology attraction that provides unending fun for the whole family, explained Greg Gallavan, who is the world’s #1 fence maze builder with mazes in the United States, Canada, Spain and Jamaica. “When I’m working the maze, I find myself chuckling at the comments I hear from the guests.”

Amaze’n Mazes has installed 44 of them, many to complement miniature golf courses and amusement parks.

“They are a great draw near any amusement that requires waiting in line because the maze will rarely have a line – it has a large capacity to handle crowds, easily accommodating thousands of visitors a day. Any facility that has good traffic can gain a profit generator with the addition of a maze,” added Gallavan. “And they can be designed to fit into any theme – from pirate ships to Mayan ruins … the possibilities are endless!”

There are no age or height requirements for mazes and they are relatively safe for all ages. In fact, toddlers, grandparents or disabled people can all enjoy the fun, and they’re great for groups – corporate retreats, family reunions and birthday parties. Even tweens and teens who do not want to be seen with their family can find places to hide in a maze.

Family entertainment is always changing as new generations invent new ways to have fun. Who knows what crazy gadgets our kid’s kids will have to amuse them? But simple low-tech interactive games like giant mazes will always be in style.

Simple, low-tech interactive games like giant mazes will always be in style.

Giant mazes are much less expensive than the average amusement park ride and can be run with only one or two employees.

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