Business Strategies: Best Staff Morale-Building Tips for Leisure Entertainment Facilities

November 21, 2011

It has long been said that if the mother in a family isn’t happy, the children aren’t happy. A modified version of this adage, substituting the word “employees” for the former and “guests,” for the latter, applies to leisure entertainment facilities, because poor staff morale translates into a less-than-positive and enjoyable experience for guests. Fortunately, there are numerous best practices owners and operators can exercise to build and maintain high staff morale.

Providing employees with the tools they require to perform their jobs properly, remain productive, and meet management’s expectations is key, especially in the case of teenage staff members. “One of the biggest detriments to morale is micro-managing employees and taking the position that you are the owner, and what you say goes,” said Frank Price, founder of Birthday University. “People perform far better when they learn, through training and then supplemental material, such as employee handbooks and written policies, what is expected of them and when they are given a chance to show that they can do it.”

Toward this end, new employees of Sparians Bowling Boutique & Bistro in Raleigh, N.C., partake of an in-depth, four-hour orientation that includes role playing and team-building components. Every policy and expectation is spelled out in written documents that new hires must review and sign. This, stated Owner Alan Fluke, fosters morale by placing, squarely on staff members’ shoulders, the responsibility for their employment experience and tenure at the facility. “The accountability puts a whole different spin on things,” Fluke reported.

Pointing out instances in which employees perform a job well or go the extra mile in doing so, and perhaps overlooking the occasional mistake, is equally critical. Jeff Whiting, general manager of teenage workforce consulting firm WAVES For Success, believes owners and managers of leisure entertainment facilities should forego constant vigilance with regard to employee mistakes and instead, “catch them doing something right, even at the expense of telling them one more thing they did wrong. Every time they perform at the level you want to see repeated, let them know.”

Whiting recommended being as specific as possible in conveying messages of this type. For instance,  rather than noting that a guest mentioned having received excellent treatment from an individual, mention exactly what the staff member did to make the guest happy. “Building a foundation on compliments not only propels staff morale to a higher level; it  motivates employees to “improve in other areas at work,” Whiting asserted.

Alex Jones, owner of Treetop Adventure in Birmingham, Ala., consistently uses this technique with Treetop Adventure employees, with great success. “It’s amazing how far a small but non-general compliment, such as, for example, the fact that I liked how someone noticed that a guest was having trouble steering a go-kart and pitched right in with some techniques—goes a long way morale-wise,” he stated.

To “reinforce the positive” Jones also reminds employees that some guests will never be happy, no matter what attempts are made to please them and/or rectify their problems. “I tell them that I know they are doing their job and keeping their end of the bargain, and that they should just move on from there,” he said.

To a related end, the operator gives staff members permission to have fun with customers while on the job. “They are told that if a child wants to ride the go-karts, but is too small to ride alone, it is more than OK for them to get in and drive, that it would be great if they were to participate in shooting water balloons for Water Wars if there aren’t enough kids to participate, etc.,” Jones explained. “It balances out the negative guest experiences, and it makes them feel important.”

Fluke, too, has found that “de-emphasizing the negative” plays a significant role in bolstering staff morale. However, he kicks things up a notch, requesting, where appropriate, that employees leverage the strengths on which he is commenting to assist their co-workers. For instance, when praising a server about the efficiency with which he or she handles and delivers guests’ food orders, he might say something along the lines of, “You’re so efficient. Can you use a bit of the time you save to help the other servers figure out how to do it the way you do?”

Additionally, Sperians and Treetop Adventure also have in place policies that call for managers to encourage good morale and spark employee motivation by spending ample time out on the floor, assisting and interacting with employees as well as interacting with visitors, instead of remaining in the back office. This, according to Price, Fluke, and Jones, demonstrates to staff that managers care about and empathize with them and are vested in the success of the operation.

Rewarding employees for good work ethic and top-notch performance is yet another morale- and productivity-enhancing practice. Fluke keeps what he calls a “war chest” of gift certificates for other attractions, like movie theaters, as well as local restaurants and retailers; tickets to local performances are periodically included in the mix. Obtaining these rewards from other local operators in exchange for similar “prizes” at Sperians minimizes costs.

Meanwhile, employees of Treetop Adventure who work a certain number of hours per week and do a good job receive two attraction passes, plus $5 in tokens for the arcade.
In a slightly different vein, Valleyfair Amusement Park in Shakopee, Minn., has instituted a “Memory Maker Wall of Fame.” Each week, guests and employees nominate a staff member who has “gone above and beyond the call of duty” for recognition on the wall as well as prizes. Valleyfair also holds regular employee events to add a spark to employee morale, a strategy endorsed by both Birthday University and WAVES For Success. Examples include “Ride Nights,” during which the park is closed to the public while employees enjoy unlimited rides as well as food and beverages; “Game Nights,” a similar program involving the use of the facility’s games; and “Waterpark Nights” in the park’s Soak City Waterpark area.

Industry News

Submit Your Comments On The Hygiene Facilities and Facility Maintenance and Operation Modules

The Facility Maintenance and Operation module and Hygiene Facilities module for the MAHC were posted on October 31, 2011 for public comment. World Waterpark Association members are encouraged to review both modules carefully and  submit comments. The MAHC Steering Committee has indicated that they welcome industry input in order to have the modules reflect best practices already ongoing.
Public comment ends December 29, 2011.
The Facility Maintenance and Operation Module lays the foundation for operational improvement by containing requirements for:

  • Closure and reopening guidance for long and short-term closures.
  • Comprehensive plans for preventive maintenance, equipment inventorying and development of an operations manual to be maintained at the facility.
  • Reducing and mitigating excessive glare and reflection on the pool surface through design and adjustments to windows and lighting equipment.
  • Comprehensive daily records of pool operation and maintenance and of operational items inspected daily.

The Hygiene Facilities module contains requirements for new or modified construction that include:

  • Implementation of rinse versus cleansing showers.
  • Minimum distances for hygiene facilities from aquatic venues.
  • Newly defined diaper changing stations.

The World Waterpark Association is based at 8826 Santa Fe Drive, Ste. 310, Overland Park, KS 66212 Phone: 1-913-599-0300. Fax: 1-913-599-0520

Industry News

Carnegie Science Center to Host History Tour

A special program sheds light on the museum’s present by examining its historical roots
The Carnegie Science Center presents Remember the Buhl: A Science Center History Tour, a very special program that tells the story of the science center’s history by looking at the exhibits that began in the original Buhl Planetarium and Institute of Popular Science.
On Monday, Dec. 5, attendees will get a first-hand look into the early roots of Carnegie Science Center and how the building that we know and love today got its start back way back in 1939. Guided by knowledgeable science center staff, visitors will have a private Miniature Railroad and Village® tour, a special Planetarium show, an in‑depth look at the Zeiss Model II Star Projector and a Tesla Coil show.
The Miniature Railroad & Village® first debuted at the Buhl Planetarium in 1954, where it was originally called Christmastown Railroad. More than 24,000 people came to see the display during that first year.
On October 24, 1939, Pittsburgh became home to the fifth major planetarium in the United States, the Buhl Planetarium and Institute of Popular Science. Its centerpiece was the “Theater of the Stars,” a planetarium featuring a Model II Zeiss Star Projector that could accurately display 9,000 of the brightest stars in the sky. Today this projector is displayed as an artifact.
The Tesla Coil was invented by Nikola Tesla, who built the first such high-voltage transformer in 1891.  Carnegie Science Center’s Tesla Coil was created 30 years later by a teenager named George Kaufman, who built it in the attic of his Ben Avon home. Every time he set it off, the neighbors would experience dramatic electrical interference.  In 1950, after some years of taking his Tesla Coil on the road for public demonstrations, Kaufman donated his Tesla coil to the Buhl Planetarium and Institute of Popular Science, where it would often disturb television and radio reception throughout the North Side, much as it did in Kaufman’s Ben Avon neighborhood. The Tesla coil was the main attraction in the Buhl’s lobby, where it was marketed as the “man-made lightning show.” In 1991, nearly a decade after Kaufman’s death, his creation found its current home in the newly built Carnegie Science Center.

Industry News

A Tribute to Bert Betti
By Frank Seninsky

Bert Betti’s passing on the morning of Sunday, July 24, 2011 at age 92, marked a farewell to a very special man, one of our industry’s greatest visionaries and guiding lights, as well as the Betson family patriarch. I was very fortunate to have known Bert for the past 35-plus years and for having the privilege of spending time with him these last two years, as he lived only a few miles from me in Naples, Fla. Upon each visit, Bert would ask me for “an industry report” and “How is Betson doing?” His mind was sharp as a tack and he was always smiling. Bert has been instrumental in my industry career, as he was the one who ultimately gave the nod in 1994 for the Betson-Alpha-Omega Amusements route partnership known as Alpha-BET.

One thing many may not know about Bert, is that he loved to write and had always wanted to be a journalist. Over the years he has handwritten many personal letters (with his meticulous handwriting) to his sons Peter and Robert and to Bob Geschine (H. Betti President) about his thoughts about the coin-op industry, growth strategies and his life lessons learned. Bert loved to tease me about my writings and even his critiques were very helpful. It would be my hope that some of the analysis and advice that Bert wrote about could be presented to the industry, but that is a topic for another day.

Brief History

Bert, whose formal name was Humbert Santino Betti, Jr., was born in Glasgow, Scotland on Dec. 23, 1918, as the third of six children (four sons and two daughters) of Humbert Betti, Sr. and Catherine (Torlai). In 1927 the family moved to New York City (after a short stay in Italy) where Bert’s father soon purchased a restaurant and in 1934 installed a Mills jukebox, this being the family’s first connection to the coin machine industry. Bert, along with his three brothers (Hugh, Eddie and Lou) and also his two older sisters (Tina and Olga), all helped expand their coin-op route that grew in Northeast New Jersey under the name H. Betti & Sons.

In 1941, Bert enlisted in the army and served with the 509th Military Police Battalion and was a part of the Normandy Invasion. He was awarded the Soldier’s Medal (less than 800 of these have ever been awarded) for rescuing wounded soldiers and patients from a burning hospital in Belgium in 1944. The story that Peter told at the funeral was that Bert was driving to an assignment when he saw a bomb hit a building near the road. He quickly drove to the building and jumped out of his car and ran inside and helped get several people/patients out of the burning building. When all those who were alive were safely out of the burning building, Bert got back into his car and continued on to his original destination, as if he had never stopped. He never told anyone (that was Bert’s style) about what he had done but word got back to his commanding officer. The Soldier’s Medal is awarded for exemplary bravery in a non-combat situation.
Bert married Eileen Margaret ‘Jane’ (Ellis) in Bristol, England in May 1944 and the couple was reunited after the war when Jane came to the United States in 1945. Bert and Jane moved to Leonia, N.J., where they raised three children, Peter, Robert and Susan (DiMotta).

Bert was the ultimate planner. When he recently traveled from Naples to his vacation home in Cummaquid, Mass., for a family christening, he took with him a framed family picture that hung on his wall in Naples, something he normally would not remove from his Naples apartment. It was as if he knew that he wasn’t going back there again. It turned out that the entire Betti family came to Cape Cod for the christening and Bert got to see each one of his eight grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren during his last days. One thing is for certain, Bert always had a plan. He even told his family when it was time for him to go to the hospital after he suffered a non-fatal heart attack, and even joked with the paramedics when they arrived. When they asked him if he had ever been in a hospital before, Bert said, “no.” (Bert had indeed been to a hospital before, not for himself but for his love of children. Over the years Betson has helped raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for The Tomorrows Childrens Fund, Bert’s favorite cause.) When the paramedics asked him if he wanted to take his reading glasses with him, Bert responded, “I don’t need glasses to read.” At the hospital it was reported that Bert still joked with everyone and of course flirted with the nurses.

Under Bert’s leadership and guidance, Betson has grown from a small route into the nation’s largest distributorship, one of the key industry game manufacturers, and the largest billiards and parts suppliers. Bert will be missed by many of us remaining in the coin-op industry. I, for one, will always be able to see his smiling face, those twinkling eyes, and his nod of approval when things are done the correct and honorable way. Rest in Peace.

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