A Focus on Affordability: Creating Food Value at Waterparks

After paying the price of admission into waterparks, hungry patrons are not looking to shell out big dollars for their meals.  With the economy in its current state, food and beverage departments have made some changes in their menus to reflect an awareness of these more conservative times.  From a la carte options to combo meals, meals at waterparks are now priced to fit even the tightest budgets.
With a variety of food concession stands throughout the park, The Grill at Water World, in Denver, Colo., is likely the best bet when it comes to inexpensive meals, according to Food Services Manager Mike Shelton.  “Over at The Grill, our combo meals, which have been on the menu for several years, sell for about $6.49.  For that price, guests can get a combination of something like a chicken sandwich, fries and a drink,” Shelton said.  Water World does allow guests to bring food into the park, so prices need to stay competitive.
Visitors to the park know their options when it comes to food and pricing, as the park periodically makes announcements throughout the day relaying menu selections.  “We recently got a machine that allows us to create signs featuring pictures of our meals.  We place signs throughout the park and on the windows of our concession areas, as well as A-frames on the sidewalks in front of the park,” Shelton said.  With 500,000 visitors a year, Water World attracts mostly local guests between the ages of 15-35.
Splish Splash, a 96-acre waterpark in Calverton, N.Y., attracts just under 500,000 annual guests, mostly from New York City, Northern New Jersey and upstate New York.  With rides and attractions for all ages, many families and various groups are in attendance.
To keep meals affordable, Deb Zak, director of food services, said that two sizes are offered.  “We have both a large and small burger or the chicken nuggets can be purchased as a small order or as a large.  Our combo meals are inexpensive, starting at $5.49,” Zak said.
Feedback from park guests has informed Zak that the menu prices are reasonable.  “We do have picnic areas just outside the park, so those who do not choose to eat here can eat nearby.  But, our prices on food are affordable, so it is not a problem for most,” Zak said.
With one million visitors each year, the indoor/outdoor waterpark at Sandusky, Ohio’s Kalahari Resort caters mostly to families from Ohio and the surrounding areas of Indianapolis, Detroit, Chicago and Pittsburgh.
“As of last summer, we noticed everyone’s wallets getting tighter, so we rolled out a series of combo meals.  With this plan, customers can get either a hot dog meal, chicken tenders, pizza, etc. along with fries and a fountain soda for $6.  Prior to this, meals were running about $8.50,” said John Skweres, director of food and beverage.
With the economy being in the state it is in, vacation spots like the Kalahari Resort need to cut back where they can.  “Families still want to take their vacations, but are looking to cut costs.  They do not want to have to spend a lot on food.”  When guests check into the resort, they receive a packet that describes the waterpark and the food options.  Signage is also present at the check-in area and the concession areas, as well.
Kalahari Resorts has a second location in Wisconsin Dells, Wis., which has recently renovated their food options to reflect freshness and affordability.  “Our new concept for food is freshness, so our menu choices are made to order.  Guests can get wraps, burritos, pasta and gluten-free selections; all made fresh and all for under $7,” said Food and Beverage Director Drew Roznowski.
People are more money-conscious these days and Roznowski has received positive feedback about the prices of food at the park.  “Perhaps as a result of our change in price and the quality of the food, food sales are actually up for the year,” Roznowski said.
Guests are aware of their options for food with menus that are located at the entrance and throughout the park.
The Water Park of America is located at the Radisson Hotel Bloomington by the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minn. With rides and attractions for all ages, this indoor waterpark draws in families and vacationers year-round, from all over Minnesota, as well as the surrounding states of Wisconsin, Iowa and The Dakotas.
Because the park is attached to the hotel, dining options are plentiful.  “Guests can stop at the coffee shop or full-service restaurant, where lunch will run about $12,” said Terry Seppala, food and beverage director.  “In June, however, we rolled out more of an a la carte menu.  Prior to this, our cafeteria meals were bundled in baskets with fries and a drink.  It was more restrictive.  Now, guests can build their own meals, like a mini-burger for $2 or a slice of pizza rather than a whole pizza.  We would rather get a little activity in the cafeteria rather than wait for those big orders,” Seppala said.
Seppala believes that the economy has affected people’s spending habits when it comes to park dining.  “They are already spending $20-$25 to get into the park, then you have locker rentals on top of that.  All the spending adds up and people do have less disposable income these days.  If we can help them out by offering less expensive food options, it is good for everyone,” Seppala said.  Menus for the park are available online and on signs throughout the park.
Sahara Sam’s Oasis Indoor Water Park, in West Berlin, N.J., draws a crowd of over 325,000 guests a year, primarily from southern New Jersey, Eastern Pennsylvania and Metro New York. Owner Ilya Girlya provides a menu of quality food at an affordable price.  “We offer value meals to our guests, which package a beverage and side along with the meal in an economical fashion,” Girlya said.
Visitors to the park are made aware of their options for food through digital menu boards, which feature promotions and, occasionally, a meal discount is offered with a purchase of entry to the park. –

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