Food At the Bowling Center:
Aiming For the Perfect Game

Serious bowlers know that getting the right spin on the ball depends on using the right ball. A game of skill, a product, a service, is only as good as the sum of its parts and that goes for food, too. Satisfying hungry customers boils down to finding the best ingredients, achieving the right style of delivery, and constantly adjusting to keep the food score high. Starting with the best ingredients, using them effectively, and serving them at the right temperature are just some of the criteria to improve the odds of satisfying customers.
Best, fresh and local describes the quality of food ingredients that get the menu going at Berlin Bowling Center, Berlin, Conn., when center owner, Jeff Sherman, considers the what and where of purchasing. “We shop local stores not just from wholesalers or bulk distributors. Bread and produce is sourced locally and only 100 percent Black Angus beef goes into the hamburger patties. We buy best ingredients, for example, we don’t buy processed chicken, rather, we buy whole pressed chicken for tenders, and buy whole milk cheeses, not skim, for better quality.”
The 20-lane bowling center attracts 30,000 customers through the door, said Sherman and the snack bar serves up $20,000 worth of meals annually. To please the food cravings of bowlers, the aim is to retain top quality until the first morsels reach the consumers’ lips. For that purpose, the Berlin eatery is equipped with a steam table for hot foods and a bain-marie sandwich table unit so that cold ingredients stay cold.
The menu is consistent though not static. Sherman watches trends and stays on top of what’s popular in the various chain restaurants in the area. He noted, “When they come out with something new on their menu, those items that are hot, we adapt to our situation.”
Trust is the name of the game when developing relationships with suppliers and Bill Froberg, owner of 30-lane Kelley’s Bowl in St. Joseph, Mich., is satisfied with Sysco and intends to stick with them as the company he trusts.
Froberg gets ideas for multiple use of the same ingredient from another trusted source, BPAA, and from the internet, where he finds a wealth of information and tips.
Many of the 2,000 bowling fans per week that stride through the doors are repeat customers, spending $75,000 toward food service at the center. No hot or cold food maintenance is necessary as all items are made to order and served promptly.
At Town & Country Lanes in Billings, Mont., co-owners, Rich and Steve Westberg make a point of listening to as many of their 40,000-plus customers and storing the feedback for future food ingredient purchases. Noted Rich Westberg, who manages the center, “When talking with customers, if they have a complaint, we listen and remember, and if more than one says the same thing, then it’s time to move on to a different ingredient.”
Listening is important, said Westberg, because the customer supports the business and on the food service side, annual earnings approach $75,000.
Selection of ingredients is one thing, transforming them into delectable meals is another and Westberg is pleased with how his food and beverage employee handles the snack bar food. “He’s in charge of the menu and his asset is creativity in use of ingredients.”
Developing trust with a supplier is a two-way street and part of the food purchasing process at Champions Fun Center in Lincoln, Neb. After establishing a relationship with the supplier and trusting the product, in this case, Sysco,  good communication is critical, affirmed General Manager Matt Brockhoff.
The thread of communication continues from supplier into the kitchen and out to the servers, with their ears to the customers, who stream into the center 100,000-strong annually. Explained Brockhoff, “We taste test and base how we use an ingredient off of what employees  say the customer would want, combined with feedback from customers to determine what to put together and then sell. We do have a consistent menu with hamburgers, but our smaller items can vary so we use the information for those.”
Without a doubt, focus on food temperature on the way out to customers is crucial to satisfied palettes. Equally, if not more critical, is the temperature of the leftovers, maintained Becky Smith, restaurant manager at Triangle Bowl in Longview, Wash. Smith advised, “Always make sure food is down to the temperature it needs to be before putting a lid on it in the refrigerator to prevent bacterial growth.” The process of it getting down to 40 degrees can last up to two hours, she said, adding, “Be sure to stir it, whether it’s dressing or rice and beans.”
Smith also recommended continually stirring hot food in the prep stage and watching that water is always in the bottom pot of a double boiler.
Various distributors supply food items for the kitchen and if Smith isn’t satisfied she doesn’t hesitate to try another. Her produce selection process goes something like, “I order, they choose. They pick the produce by the case. And if one head is bad, always save it and they have to replace it.”
The element of surprise inherent in the buying process coupled with Smith’s use of ingredients provide surprises for customers also. Though a set menu prevails, weekly specials and daily soup specials provide an avenue for veering toward the unexpected. A turkey dinner becomes a turkey broccoli casserole, and the carcass suffuses a soup. Berries invade syrups and jellies, hamburger stretches into chili and meatloaf perhaps, in gravy over bread. Well over $300,000 in annual restaurant earnings, as reported by bowling center co-owner, Beau Little, is evidence of the high scores bowlers give the ingredients that go into Lindy’s Food & Lounge meals. –

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