Talking Turkey:
How Bowling Centers Improve the Outlook for Food and Beverage Sales

Bowlers know what they go to the bowling center for. Whether they think further to include a meal   may hinge on the venue’s presentation, what’s offered on the menu and on how good a deal it is. And arriving at what works for what crowd may take some trial and error from season to season.
Bowlers are drawn to sandwiches rather than plain hamburgers at the Idle Hour Lanes in Scranton, Pa., discovered bowling center owner, Jack Minelli, who contended, “Special sandwiches, several elaborate, some with different combinations of meat, different trimmings, dressings, some warmed or toasted, helps raise the price of the item, which helps raise food revenue.”
Special pricing on food is periodically offered in conjunction with bowling deals to the 2,000 regular league bowlers, up to 3,000 special tournament players, and open players that come to idle awhile at the center each year. The special price pairings target particular groups, said Minelli, and differ for each, from families to young adults, 20 to 30 years old, and most take advantage.
Minelli estimated that between 20 and 30 percent of profits at the center come from food and beverages. Summer attendance is slow in the Northeast, and generally, he doesn’t intend to invest in any equipment for the kitchen until the economy turns around.
Tom Barberini, general manager for Oak Mountain Lanes in Pelham, Ala., is convinced that clutter is a turnoff for many people and they won’t rush over to order food in messy conditions. To induce increased sales of food and drink he advised, “Have a very clean kitchen area and very aesthetically pleasing ordering counter.”
Customers that belly up to the counter for the 2011 season have been pleased to find some new additions to the menu such as chicken quesadillas, funnel cake fries and Philly cheese steaks. However, said Barberini, the fried Alaskan cod fish item may be more fitting for a restaurant setting than a bowling center.  
Coupons sent to the center’s registered email recipients that include a snack bar deal spark interest in an eating/bowling excursion, particularly for stay at home moms as an opportunity to bring the kids out for a fun and food combo. Barberini estimated that 700 fall season league bowlers and an additional 300 summer bowlers visit the center.
Quality is the key to increased food sales at Fishlips’ Nameless Bar, the eatery within Shore Lanes, Merritt Island, Fla. Manager Jeff Higginbotham is adamant, “Never compromise product. Nothing comes out of our kitchen less than stellar.”
He observed that oftentimes when sales are down the first impulse at many centers is to buy cheaper product and sell at low cost. Again, he suggested, “Always sell good product, nothing you’d be embarrassed of and over the time it’ll pay off.” Modifying the old adage, “under-commit, overproduce,” to “under-commit and over-provide” consistently results in sales. “Anyone can get a good meal but can they count on it being right every time and on good service?”
A multitude of items enter the menu as specials to present to the diverse Nameless clientele, shared with Shore Lanes bowlers, most frequently ranging in age from 21 to 55, sharing the center with teens at the same time. Higginbotham said all the items, such as pork quesadillas and the pizza, are so successful because right up there next to quality is uniqueness. “The key is to find something they can’t get elsewhere.” The bar’s specialty beer is Birch Beer and is offered in mixed drinks as well as alone.
An attraction at the bar in conjunction with the bowling enter is Two for Tuesday, when bowlers get $2 specials on bowling as well as on a drink and a slice of pizza.  
Affordability is at the top of the scoreboard for Robert Smoltz, owner of Ford Lanes, Dearborn Heights, Mich., in fulfilling the objective to increase food and drink sales. However, said Smoltz, as a self-prescribed “foodie,” it can’t be just any food.  He serves brand name items and won’t serve what he won’t eat. “We take pride in what we serve, give it tender loving care, present the best to people and hope they’ll buy.” He advised, “Give the finest quality you can for the affordability you can provide, keep the place sparkling clean, maintain consistent hours and precise portion control.”
Smoltz foresees an expansion in a few years of another bowling center location he owns, and plans to equip it with complete kitchenware, from pizza oven to fryers with auto lifts and timers so food is cooked consistently when coming out.
Kids, adults and corporate groups frequently enjoy use of the center for parties. In general, though, Smoltz noticed a decline in attendance with implementation of the no-smoking ban. “It was the straw that broke the camel’s back, and with high unemployment in Michigan, exposure in the media of what can result from enforced driving laws, coupled with economic problems and home consumption, I anticipate a decline in alcohol sales.”
The snack shop and restaurant aren’t clearly visible to patrons of Marshall Bowl, Marshall, Minn., said Kris Shover, who owns the bowling center with her husband, Bruce Stover. The remedy is menus standing on every table and visible so bowlers know food is available.
To build up food revenue even further, the Stovers offer package deals and extreme items, popular with the many college-age bowlers. For example, said Bruce, quantity is described in pounds rather than small, medium or large. The special package deal on Friday nights is bowling plus an unlimited pizza and tap beer buffet. Food-inclusive family fun packages are also available.
The Stovers typically roll out new menu items in the beginning of the bowling season. In August, they’ll try out a bowling pin dessert seen at the Bowl Expo. “We always try some dessert. Dessert pizza we’d seen at the previous Expo flopped big time, even though we sampled out several. Could be the atmosphere isn’t right.”
It’s best to gear any package deals that include food and beverages toward the customer base, which is families with children, at Cooper’s Sport Bowl, Anderson, Ind., said owner Cathy Cooper, and that’s just what she does. Also, the many groups that gather at the center for birthdays, graduations, fund raisers, class reunions, youth groups and meetings have group event packages available.  
Cooper has reintroduced homestyle cooking, which she served several years ago in the cafe, and it includes a specialty home cooked meal that holds throughout the week and includes appetizer and soup of the day. “We do all the cooking in house from bread to meat to soups. We tried steak dinner,” recalled Cooper, “though people think of steak houses for that and it hasn’t worked for us.”
The Shouts Sports Pub and Eatery within the center also provides kitchen service in the bowling center, serving 44 lanes, in addition to the 100-customer cafe capacity. Over 1,000 members in the bowling community come into the center to bowl multiple times.  One of the most pleasant features of Shouts, said Cooper, is the outdoor patio, which was completely remodeled as an open-air venue. –

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