Launching Good Eats:
Introducing New Menu Items at Waterparks

Spending the day swimming and splashing at a waterpark can really whet the appetite.  To keep hungry customers satisfied, waterpark concession stands offer an array of meals and drinks to stave off hunger and provide patrons with that extra boost of energy to enjoy the park all day long.  
When arranging a menu, those in the food services department at waterparks stick with those foods that sell the best, but occasionally choose to bring in a new item that may appeal to those guests that are looking for something different.  Kevin Parker, food and beverage manager at Blue Bayou in Baton Rouge, La., always keeps an eye out for something new to add to the menu.  “I tend to look to trade magazines to find out about new, interesting items, but often other managers will see an item somewhere that may catch their eye.  Other times, new food items are brought to our attention by word-of-mouth,” Parker said.
Once Parker, or a colleague, has the idea to try something new, a blind taste test is performed.  “We get samples from vendors and then the department heads will sit down and taste the food.  We have no outside information about the product, to prevent any type of bias.  We will just taste the food and then discuss what the public would think of the item,” said Parker.  Once it is decided that a product will be added to the menu, Parker said they will do a soft opening, to see what the reaction is.  “If it goes well and people seem to like it, we will permanently add it to the menu.”  New items are promoted with signs provided by vendors.
Grand Paradise Water Park, in Collins, Miss., entertains nearly 100,000 hungry guests each year.  Food Services Manager Steve Pickering listens to his customers to see what kinds of food they would like to see on the menu.  “In addition to customer requests, our vendors also let us know about new items that we may want to try,” Pickering said.
Before it goes public, some behind-the-scenes work needs to be put in place when it comes to bringing in a new food item, according to Pickering.  “We have to program the new item into the cash register and buy new food trays, if that is required.  We also instruct employees on portion sizes and how long these new products take to cook,” Pickering stated.  
Signs advertising the new foods are arranged near the concession areas, as well as announcements over the park’s public address system.  The new menu items are given approximately two weeks to determine if the food is successful enough to become a permanent menu item or if it should be pulled.
With water slides, a wave pool, a kids’ area and more, Lubbock Water Rampage, in Lubbock, Texas, keeps visitors active enough to work up an appetite.  Food Services Manager Cody Perry said that people ask for certain items, and if they ask enough, he begins to consider adding the item.  However, some thought needs to be given to the product, such as whether it will be cost effective or how labor intensive it would be to make.  “We prefer to stick with food that can be made in the microwave, so it has a quick turnaround,” Perry said.
New food items are promoted at point-of-sale and with signage at the cash register.  After a two-week period, it is decided whether an item is popular and cost effective enough to be added on to the menu on a regular basis, or if it does not seem to be working out.
Chris Conway is the recreation manager for the city of Ballwin, Mo., and he handles the menu for the Pointe at Ballwin Commons, which is a state-of-the-art indoor swimming complex, featuring water slides, lap pools and more.  Said Conway, “This season, the vendors came to me and suggested new menu items that they thought would be a good fit for us.  Then we looked around at who else was offering a similar product and tried it out to decide if it would work here.”
Conway said that the best way to promote new items to the public is with an informed staff.  “Staff really is the key factor in getting the word out.  We let our staff try any new products, so they can push the products and provide a great explanation,” Conway said.  In addition, Conway’s vendors provide signage, bumper stickers and tri-folds, as a means of promotion.  Last year, The Pointe at Ballwin Commons rang up 89,000 guests for food purchases.
Super Splash USA, featuring pools, slides and other attractions, is a great summer destination in Raytown, Mo.  Catering to roughly 60,000 guests a year, this waterpark prefers to keep the menu simple, with those food items that have successfully sold well over time.
Pool Manager Jennifer Jackson said that she sends bids to food companies before the official season begins and new menu items depend on the prices they are offered.  “We have a standard mark-up for each product, so if the pricing we are offered works well, given the mark-up, we will try a new menu item,” Jackson said.  “We are not that adventurous with the menu, though.  We need to keep it simple, kid-friendly and, of course, all items must be able to be prepared with the equipment we already have to keep it cost effective.”
Jackson said that they have worked with the same food vendors for several years and will often ask the vendors for suggestions on new products.  In addition, new items may be based on feedback from customers, who request certain items.  “Once we decide to add a new item to our menu, we will promote it with signs near our concession area and will also make announcements over our public address system to let guests know what we are offering,” Jackson said.  New menu items are tested out over the full three-month season to see if they are successful enough to be added on as a permanent feature to the menu.
Bryon Bustamante is the food and beverage coordinator at NRH20 Family Water Park in North Richland Hills, Texas.  When it comes to finding new and interesting items to add to the menu, Bustamante prefers to travel to food shows and to network with vendors, who often suggest many great ideas. “We also like to use our current ingredients to create new choices.  For example, we once created ‘Extreme Nachos,’ containing ingredients that were already in use for other menu items; such as taco meat, shredded lettuce, chips and cheese.  That was an original idea based on foods we were currently using in other ways.  That can really cut down costs,” Bustamante said.  
To get the word out about new additions to the menu, Bustamante uses signs, and coupons are also handed out at the front gate. “Additionally, announcements may be made between songs through the park’s radio programming,” Bustamante said. New menu items at NRH20 are kept throughout the season and are ultimately evaluated to see if they were popular enough to be kept on for the following year. –

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