Trends in Amusement Park Temporary Food Service Outlets

As the second-oldest amusement park in North America, Cedar Point has been welcoming generations of tourists since the late 1800s. And while the classic park has introduced quite a few new attractions in recent years, like roller coasters, water rides and a kids’ section, the park hasn’t forgotten its family roots in the Midwestern town of Sandusky, Ohio.
This year, the park unveiled the Windseeker, a 30-story swing ride with breathtaking views of Lake Erie and the Cedar Point Beach, attracting plenty of thrill-seekers hungry for fun and food.
“We currently have 48 restaurant operations in the park and Soak City,” said Gary Gochenour, director of Cedar Point’s food and beverage division. These locations range from small walk-up pretzel stands to branded concepts, like Pink’s Hollywood Famous and Johnny Rockets, which is styled after a 1950s diner complete with singing wait staff and popular cheese burger platters with milk shakes.
The park also operates three chain restaurants onsite: Chick-Fil-A, Subway and Panda Express.
“During peak operating times, we implement roughly 26 to 36 specialty cart operations,” said Gochenour. “These carts serve items like iced coffees, fresh-baked pretzels and ice cream.”
The 2012-2013 season may also introduce even more food options at Cedar Point, but that’s being kept under wraps for now.
“We always are looking at adding locations that will better serve our valued guests,” said Gochenour. Pink’s was added in 2011, he said. “The highly successful hot dog concept was a great addition to our park and is very well-received by our guests. We never stop working at trying to improve our overall park food and beverage offerings.”
Challenges also come with so many restaurants and concession stands in operation during high season. “The greatest challenges to operating any location during busy times is making sure we are delivering great guest services,” he admitted. “First-class guest service when visiting Cedar Point is paramount. My managers and I work very hard to make sure our associates are going out of their way to deliver great guest service.”

The Teenage Factor

Gilroy Gardens Family Theme Park in Gilroy, Calif., celebrated its 10th anniversary in 2010 with special year-round events that attracted tourists from throughout the region looking for warm-weather fun. And according to Stephanie Anderson, manager of food service at the park, these people came hungry.
“Currently, we have nine food concession stands and nine food carts,” said Anderson. “We do plan to add another food cart for 2012 at the exit area for our park.  We had done some testing with a cart in that location over the summer, and were very happy with the results there.”
Gilroy has created its independent business based on a family friendly model that is expressed not only with the events, like a holiday light show, but also on the menu.
“Our park caters more to families and older adults than to teenagers, and as a result we get lots of requests for healthy food options from our guests,” said Anderson. “It is interesting to see that even among the healthier options we have like salads, sandwiches, and even curry and rice, the most popular items are the chicken strips with fries meal, and the burger with fries meal.”
Keeping up with health requests and consumer demand can be a balancing act. Add that to a staff of teenagers embarking on their first jobs, and you can sometimes face chaos.
“For us, one of the most challenging and rewarding aspects of operating the food concession stands and food carts is actually our mostly young teenage staff,” she said. “Many of our employees are just starting their first job with us, so we put extra training into developing responsible and professional individuals with the work ethic and skills they need to be successful not just here, but also as they enter a competitive job market later.”
The key, she said, is training, training and more training. Like many parks of its kind, Gilroy’s concession stand employees tend to be younger locals looking to make extra cash. And that, she said, can require a vastly different management approach than when working with adults. Not only are there school conflicts, but the teens look at the money as a bonus rather than a necessity.
“Sometimes,” admitted Anderson, “having young employees whose livelihood doesn’t depend on a steady paycheck can be a challenge for us to motivate them to come into work every day. On busy days, it can be difficult to stretch the staff. We have to cover for the ones who didn’t come in. We have to get creative to make sure that staffing shortages don’t affect our guest’s experience.”

How Sweet It Is

Hersheypark is synonymous with food thanks to its sweet reputation as Chocolate Town, U.S.A. The amusement park was founded on chocolate by candymaker Milton Hershey, who created an empire that’s been employing and entertaining visitors to the small Central Pennsylvania town since the early 20th century.
Today, the park has expanded its attractions along with its cuisine. “We currently have 36 concession stands and 21 portable carts,” said Sophia Zulli, Hersheypark’s director of food and beverage services. “Each year we evaluate our offerings and modify our concession stands based on guest feedback from the prior year.”
As Zulli anticipates the 2012 spring and summer seasons, which welcome hundreds of thousands of visitors to the park and its surrounding attractions, she’s already thinking of ways to better serve guests who are looking to nosh in between taking a spin on the park’s famous Super Duper Looper.
“We are planning to better enhance a few locations for our 2012 season,” admitted Zulli. “But at this time, we do not plan to add an additional location or subtract any existing ones.”
Vacationing families often splurge on snack foods, and this is especially true in Hershey, where the smell of chocolate engulfs the town daily. “Soft-serve ice cream continues to be an amusement park favorite,” said Zulli. “And of course anything made with Hershey chocolate!”
During high season, keeping enough of the most popular products in stock can be tricky. “There are some locations that on busy days have a harder time keeping up with demand,” she said, “which, in turn, creates a longer wait time for guests. This is something that we continue to strive to reduce each year.” And for Zulli, that often means tracking the park’s most popular rides, both in the main park and waterpark, and making provisions based on where people are going and when they may get a sweet tooth.

A Taste of Southern Hospitality

Fans of Dolly Parton know that the country legend has always talked about the food she enjoyed growing up in rural Tennessee. Visitors to Dollywood, her trademark theme park in Pigeon Forge, Tenn., are treated to taste of Southern cooking at full-service restaurants and concession stands throughout the venue.
“Dollywood is famous for our concession foods and food demo areas, especially the big skillets we have on park,” explained Joe Lindsey, director of Dollywood foods. “Right now, we have 18 locations at Dollywood and four at Dollywood’s Splash Country, our award-winning waterpark.” And this already popular selection is about to expand.

Dollywood’s guests are part of the cooking fun at demonstration skillet areas like the one pictured. Visitors are also treated to the taste of Southern cooking at full-service restaurants and concession stands at this Pigeon Forge, Tenn., attraction.

“In 2012, we will add four additional locations at Dollywood,” said Lindsey. “Two of which will support our new coaster Wild Eagle and two will be mobile, to be used to move to hotspots in the park.”
Branding has become especially important for Dollywood visitors, not only when it comes to anything associated with the country sweetheart, like Parton’s cookbook, but also the brands people buy at home. “One of the two mobile units will feature Georgia’s Iced Coffee, a new Coca-Cola brand,” said Lindsey. The second mobile unit will be used in areas that see the most traffic, which can change. That’s why he said the mobility comes in handy as opposed to having to construct a new stand or stand-alone eatery that can’t be flexible.
And while the food landscape is expected to remain the same at Dollywood’s Splash Country, where nachos with cheese always seem to be a best seller, the new mobile carts will come in handy throughout the venue.
“The biggest challenge for us is keeping the carts supplied with product and providing a continually appealing layout while meeting the demand,” said Lindsey. “For meals, traditional fare like burgers and chicken tenders remain the most popular. In concessions, it really depends on the season. But in peak season, summer frozen lemonade is a big seller.” –

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