Whether putting or racing, patrons are attracted to the sight and smell of great food—no matter if the facility offers basic snacks or something more comprehensive. What’s offered, of course, depends on a number of factors, ranging from demographics and layout to location. One element that is common across facilities, though, is the need for the right food equipment to create customer favorites. Here’s a look at how some in the industry are maximizing the tools that enable them to dish it up.
When it comes to almost any tool, versatility and performance count. “We serve burgers, chicken, sandwiches, hot dogs, and pizza, but our must-have equipment is our fryers,” said Janet Dieter, the manager at Funway Ultimate Entertainment Center near Chicago in Batavia, Ill.
Gary Seibert, the general manager at Ozzy’s Family Fun Center in Leesport, Pa., agreed and added, “For us, our grill and fryers are most productive. We even do hot dogs on the grill. But fryers are great too because a big hit with today’s kids are chicken products like nuggets and tenders.”
In addition to being integral to food preparation at many attractions, fryers can significantly boost bottom lines. “Our fryers are essential because of very popular items like hot wings,” said Becky Olbrych, owner of Wheels Fun Park in Durham, N.C.
She explained, “We have a grill and a six-burner gas stove with an oven and pizza equipment and hot dog grills, but the fryers have made a big difference. They are money makers for us. Since we put in our fryers we have had an increase in our snack bar of anywhere between $300 to $600 on a daily basis, primarily because of wings.”
Others have found success with different equipment. “We don’t have fryers,” said Joe Aboid, owner of Lynchburg,Va.’s, Putt Putt Fun Center. “I have two Quik N’ Crispy greaseless fryers so we can do things like French fries, chicken tenders and nuggets and mozzarella sticks.”
Aboid, like many other experts, said that the Quik N’ Crispy provides a simple alternative without the expense and operation and maintenance issues of a traditional frying system.
Yet, no matter what they have, most operators have a wish list. Aboid, for example, said, “I would love to change my ovens from electric to gas. I wish we could afford to do that; however, it is a little cost prohibitive for how much we can sell.”
This underscores a fundamental consideration. That is, you shouldn’t either over equip or under equip your food operation. Or, as Olbrych noted, one way to support more productive and versatile equipment would be to leverage sales by attracting outside customers. She said, “We open at 10 in the morning seven days a week and we realized we were missing the lunch crowd. We looked around and decided to do something about it. By adding equipment we now put out a full lunch.”
She continued, “So, because of our location, we can draw new customers from local workers and not just rely on people visiting our attraction. We make it easy for both dine-in and carryout orders. During the week we serve lunch from 11 to 4 and can typically serve 50 lunches and half of it is takeout. We put new signage to draw people in. Of course, customers can order from the grill anytime they want, which is good since we can have a couple thousand visitors on any given weekend.”
She further noted, “Expanding our menu has been so successful, we are now considering adding a dinner menu. As for equipment, the only thing we might add is a chargrill.”
Lisa Crispino, owner of Funtrackers Family Park in Hot Springs, Ark., has also capitalized on location. She said, “We sit on the main highway in our town and our restaurant sits closer to the road than our park, so we attract customers who stop by just to get food. We serve as many people off the street as we do folks who come for the fun center. It really adds to the bottom line.”
At attractions across the country, owners and managers pointed out that the most important piece of equipment they have is what produces their signature items. As Crispino said, “We don’t have a big concession area, but are in the process of building a pizza and ice cream parlor on our property right now. So for us, pizza ovens are the most important thing. We have owned this business for 16 years and know that is what our customers want.”
Obviously, not every attraction has the location or the space to draw in outsiders or to have an unlimited menu. It’s essential then that owners define what they want to be known for, factoring in their demographics. This will be tempered by the average number of visitors. You may have a wish list for a particular piece of equipment, but if a cost benefit analysis shows that sales won’t support such an investment you should hold off.
As Seibert noted, “The business is so varied the first thing you have to do is figure out who you really are. You can’t be everything to everybody.”
He recommended, “Try and zero in on what is going to be your feature or signature item or items. What do you want to set you apart? Know what margin you want. Look at your facility. Do clients stand or does it have seating? If you have an expanded menu and people are just coming in to do something and leave—like mini-golf—it is not going to work well. Do you have people waiting on tables or do they place their order, take a number, and pick it up? These are the type of questions that will drive what you need for equipment.”
Too often attractions are so busy focusing on the golf or kart aspects of their facilities that they tend to overlook the food. This can result in fare that is too pedestrian and just like everybody else. While it may be a simple menu, with the right equipment you can make extraordinarily attractive and tasty food.
Accordingly, you need to buy smart. Said Olbrych, “Talk to the experts—people you trust. For example, I have worked for 30 years with US Food. We have a great working relationship and I trust them. They have a division that designs kitchens and recommends the type of equipment you need. I worked with them to reinvent our whole food service area, including the selection equipment. I introduced them to my contractor, making it a total team effort.”
Look at the landscape and the big picture. Budget conscious attraction operators face mounting financial pressures in the form of rising food and labor costs. But as Aboid noted, there are less visible costs. “All top brands work pretty much the same. I would say the biggest concern I would have would be operating cost and maintenance considerations. Reliability. The availability of parts not if, but when, they break.”
When considering a new piece of equipment carefully review the specs, like energy use and management, safety and sanitation features. In addition, think through the versatility element and time and space-saving aspects of the equipment. That is where multi-use equipment might pay off. For example, devices such as ovens with convection, steam and combination cooking capabilities.
From manufactures like Blodgett and Hobart to Vulcan, there are plenty of quality makers of equipment out there. The key is to define your food operation and how it supports—or could support—your attraction. Knowing your margins and numbers can ensure success when working with the experts.
Remember, there is no substitute for effective communications with your suppliers and partners—just as there is no alternative for quality and outrageously good customer service. This approach can help make food an exciting and integral part of your attraction and add significantly to your bottom line. –
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