Sooner or later, waterpark guests take a break from the slides and inner tubes and head for the food stands. Food service managers know they have to follow a simple principle in feeding waterpark guests: Make the food good and make the food quickly.
At the Massanutten Mountain Resort in Harrisonburg, Va., guests can enjoy the fun of both an outdoor and indoor waterpark. Unlike the outdoor waterpark, which is open from Memorial Day through Labor Day, the three-story indoor park is open all year. The food service, which is run by Great Eastern Purveryors, operates a variety of food venues that range from quick snacks to full-menu, sit-down meals.
“We have multiple venues on the different levels,” said Mark Litz, vice president for Great Eastern Purveyors. “On our wet deck we offer a basic snack shop, which serves pizza, hamburgers, hot dogs, fruit cups, parfaits, salads and ice cream. When I think about this venue, I equate it to fast food in how it is served, although the quality is superb.”
The second level has a lounge area that is connected to a game room. The lounge, which seats 130 customers, offers a full menu from burgers to sandwiches to sirloin steaks. There is also a large bar area that is equipped with TVs as well.
“The bar area allows parents to come and relax while their children play in the waterpark. We have glass walls so customers can see the waterpark,” Litz noted. “In this area, we also hold our karaoke, poker and trivia tournaments and our murder mystery dinners. There is a party room as well that can accommodate about 10-15 people.”
A snack shop resides on the top level. “Sweets” offers candy, cookies that are baked on-site, cappuccino and other dessert items. Also on the top level is the Blue Ridge Buffet and Restaurant, which serves an all-you-can-eat buffet, and can seat up to 240 people.
“We have a variety of foods and we have quality food. Our first and only goal is that our guests are happy with the food selection, and that there is plenty for them to choose from. They may come here to enjoy the waterpark, but they always look for good food.”
As Director of Food and Beverage at Roaring Springs Waterpark in Meridian, Idaho, Janet Weston oversees all snack and food venues. The park offers 10 order-and–go venues that serve hamburgers, pizza, tacos, subs, salads, corn dogs, funnel cakes, ice cream, cotton candy, novelty drinks and other traditional favorites.
“We offer both healthy items and traditional items because our guests look for both, but it is the quick food and the fun food that sell the quickest,” said Weston. “Our food is high quality and we use only fresh ingredients and our guests appreciate that.” Weston is expanding the waterpark’s menu by adding Paninis and more fresh sandwiches, but she said that any food that is added to the menu cannot be higher priced.
“We have to be conscious of prices. New items cannot be out of the price range we have already set. Guests need reasonably priced, quality meals. We want them to have the best possible experience while they are here and food is a big part of that experience.”
At the 70-acre Noah’s Ark in Wisconsin Dells, Wis., variety is also the key word when feeding hungry guests. “We have traditional favorites such as burgers, hot dogs, our own freshly made pizza, tacos, nachos, salads, fresh fruits, veggies and dip and deep fried Twinkies and funnel cakes,” noted Food and Beverage Manager Judes Gilkerson. “Our guests can choose their favorite foods from our venues, which include three main eateries, a deli and three outdoor stands.”
While healthy choices are available to guests, Gilkerson sees most guests taking a vacation from their healthy diets and ordering “fun foods.”
“Last year, we tested out the deep fried Twinkies and Oreos and they were a huge success, so next year we are building a new food stand that will be ‘Everything Fried.’ It will serve just fried foods and treats such as a deep fried cheese curds, a Wisconsin favorite, and another novelty food, deep fried Pepsi, which is funnel cake made with a Pepsi batter.”
While Gilkerson sees food trends come and go, she has noticed the increase in the popularity of bottled water and also the increase in food allergies among her guests, especially allergies to peanut oil and gluten. None of the food at the park is cooked in peanut oil and most of the foods are gluten free.
“Thirty years ago, I would never think about allergies, but now they are so prevalent. We now recognize that so many guests are affected by allergies and so we are proactive in dealing with them as best we can.” With both indoor and outdoor waterparks, guests can enjoy King’s Pointe Waterpark Resort in Storm Lake, Iowa, all year long. Guests can purchase food in the resort and in the waterpark. The Regatta Grill in the resort seats 150 and serves sandwiches, steak, pastas and appetizers. Kevin Drake, who supervises the Regatta grill, has seen an increase in requests for wraps and healthier choice items.
“We are always updating to accommodate guests. We want to have the right variety of food. It makes their stay here and the waterpark more enjoyable.” Nick Edwards oversees the three food and beverage venues inside the waterpark. The Sara Lee Snack Shack offers burgers, hot dogs and other traditional food.
“We do offer healthier items, but it is the traditional fast food, and snack items, that are still most popular,” Edwards noted. “We added the Surfside Grill at the poolside to take some of the pressure off the snack shack. We get 65,000 guests per year, so we needed another venue to help handle the crowds. Here we offer everything from burgers to jumbo pickles to ice cream.” Edwards also brought in more novelty treats to the waterpark including rope licorice, fun dip and other candy.
“We want there to be a variety of items, but we are also price sensitive and candy is a fun treat that won’t break a budget.”
Tips for Selling More Food at Waterparks
- At the Massanutten Mountain Resort, Mark Litz knows he must meet the hunger needs of his waterpark guests.
- “It’s not enough to have food; we have to have a wide variety of food that will appeal to all ages and all appetites. It’s also important to keep prices reasonable, keep the quality high and serve it fast. If we do all this, the food service is successful.”
- Janet Weston of Roaring Springs Waterpark in Meridian, Idaho, agreed.
- “There has to be variety,” she noted. “We run the gamut from pizzas to salads to tacos. We get a large volume of people ordering food, so to be successful, we have to have food they want, and we have to get it to them without them waiting in line for a long time. The lines have to move.”
- Now in her 29th summer at Noah’s Ark, Judes Gilkerson knows that while food is not the main reason for people coming to the park, it is very important once guests enter the attraction.
- “Food has to be fun, affordable and a park always has to have some surprises. Guests love to have their taste buds surprised.”
- “Different and fast is the key to success in serving waterpark food. If you can’t keep up with the large number of people needing food, you are going to be in trouble. Guests may be here on vacation, but they still demand fast service and great tasting food.”
- Another important food rule for Gilkerson is to pay attention to the weather.
- “If it is cold, and in Wisconsin, that is a good possibility, make sure there is hot chocolate and lots of soup. If it is hot, then it’s ice cream that is going to go fast. In this business, one always has to be prepared for volume and weather changes.”