In a country where food is plentiful and cheap, we tend to snack on the go and during our time spent being entertained. “Since everyone is always rushing around in a hurry these days, there’s often no time for three square meals. So grazing, or snacking on mini-meals, becomes important,” said Marilyn Stephenson, a registered dietitian and assistant to the director, office of nutrition and food science, Food and Drug Administration.
Would you like popcorn and a soda at the movies? Absolutely. A cold beer and a hot dog at the ball park? Sign me up! Why would anyone assume laser tag, or any attraction mix that includes laser tag, is any different?
Pizza and Soda: The Best Synergy for Your Facility
Pizza and soda are hands down the most profitable items you can sell at your facility. The cost for putting in soft drinks is very low and the product cost allows you to move it for a reasonable price and make money. When you consider that you are sending people into an environment that causes sweat and effort, most of your customers will budget some funds to cool off with a drink. Your birthday events also have higher value as you can include (near) unlimited soft drinks.
- Pro Tip: Soft drink companies will also throw some advertising money your way if you include their logo in a brochure, a video or in any number of places!
Pizza, while also incredibly profitable, is a little more difficult to get started with as it requires more space and is an investment. The good news: used equipment is plentiful if you look and making a quality pie is equally easy! You will likely be looking at around a $15,000 equipment investment to start, some electrical work and some fit out in your facility that will bring your kitchen up to health code standards. Try a number of different crusts and sauces to create the best pie you can for a reasonable cost.
Why is pizza so great? Like soda, adding pizza to some or all of your party packages adds additional value and allows you to charge a higher premium. If your pie is just OK, you will likely pay off your investment in the first year with just parties! If it is better than OK, expect your over-the-counter sales to be icing on the cake.
Additional Food Items
Foods that are sellable vary greatly by region. Here are a few of the more common products that require little in the way of special equipment and time investment: Slush Puppy or ICEEs; candy bars; chips; energy drinks; popcorn; hot dogs; coffee and espresso; nachos and pretzels.
Ultimately, you want to keep products on hand that you can turn over at a fair rate and that you can sell for maximum profit. However, be warned: popcorn and chips (especially popcorn) create more mess than just about any other food. I strongly recommend against popcorn, as you can greatly reduce clean-up time and wear on your facility and staff! By speaking with vendors and buying some starting product you can spend a few months experimenting with products to find the best mix. If you find a product doesn’t work now, don’t be afraid to try it again in the future.
Fear of Frying
Fried foods appeal to adults and children and, as far as taste goes, are pretty hard to mess up. Drop in grease for a few minutes and voila, yummy food! These foods will require more training, a grease trap, a fryer and maybe additional equipment required by your state. Will you make money? Certainly, as long as your product is reasonably priced and has good flavor.
Like pizza, dealing with a fryer does require more of an investment, but typically very little space. There are “hot air fryers” available, but I have yet to find one that gives fried food the same crispness and flavor that frying in hot oil does. Do some research, check out what’s available (closed frying systems are great!) and do what is best for your facility.
Some operators swear by vending machines, as they feel it limits mess and you don’t need that pesky kitchen or concession area. I have seen it done both ways, and in tandem, and I assure you, a concession area is more profitable, even with the mess, hands down.
Now that the summary of foods is out of the way, let’s address how to market and move product. A caveat: you have to enforce a no food and drink policy with few exceptions if you expect to run a profitable concession business. The only exception: food allergies. Accepting anything less takes money out of your pocket and disrespects your business.
As I previously mentioned, products like pizza and soda work well when included in party packages. Some parties will opt out of food when booking, but when parents book parties without food it is often easy to upsell them upon arrival at the facility. Selling additional product at a slight discount to parties also makes the additional money spend a little less stressful psychologically for the party parent. Never push too hard, treat your upselling like being a helpful friend and you will usually have no issues.
Put together soft drinks and maybe some food with your attractions. Two games of laser tag, some tokens, and a soft drink is an easy upsell as a package. For families, a pizza, four soft drinks, tokens and some tag is an incredibly popular package, especially on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon. Train your staff to offer these packages to everyone and watch how quickly the amount of product you move goes up.
It was a revelation when we started offering pizza and soft drinks to our mid-priced lock-in package, as we sold 80 percent of our packages in this format! Offering a pizza buffet to large groups is very economical for everyone involved and solves a very common problem for organizations: how do we feed 50-100 kids easily and affordably? Your facility will receive thanks for handling this particular issue for groups.
Don’t underestimate how many adults are also willing to dine on pizza: pizza and drink packages do extremely well with corporate events. If they turn their nose up, offer to cater from a local service or restaurant. It may not be your food, but you can still make a profit and do it on your terms.
Special Lock-In Events
I have seen great success with all-inclusive events that are not offered weekly, but more on a monthly or every other month schedule. Offer all-you-can-play laser tag, tokens or free game play, plus unlimited pizza and drinks for four to six hours for $30 a person and you can make a bundle of cash on an otherwise slow evening. Offered around the holiday season, these events can produce thousands of dollars in revenue and people will bring more money to eat additional food and play your redemption games. Food in these cases can really seal the deal.
Having brochures for different groups available to your customers is a no brainer, but have you considered adding a short menu also? You would be amazed at how often the head of a group or a party parent will take away the brochure and will be prepared to buy food when they book or upon arrival. Don’t have brochures? Time to design some!
- Pro Tip: Always tailor the food offerings to the type of event you are servicing. Pizza buffets are not a good listing in a birthday party brochure, but are excellent in a corporate brochure.
- Your website should have information on party and group-related food on those pages for easy reference.
- Staff should mention your food area to every customer who purchases a game.
- Have some pictures of some of the foods you carry on posters in your lobby if your concession area is not easily visible.
- Cook a sampling of food, as the smell of a freshly baked pizza will often draw in at least a customer or two during lunch and dinner times.
Planning a facility without food is like building a house without bedrooms. Sure, you can sleep on the floor somewhere, but wouldn’t you rather sleep in a bed? Food fits naturally in entertainment facilities, it is only a question of what kind of food is appropriate and how you handle this addition to your facility.