Fun Food Strategies for the Fun of It

By Julie Ritzer Ross

While healthier fare continues to garner guests’ attention, staples like pizza and fun foods remain the most popular menu options at go-kart and mini-golf facilities.

Funway Ultimate Entertainment Center in Batavia, Ill., definitely sells more salads and wraps, especially chicken wraps, than it did one or two years ago, noted Manager Janet Dieter. However, less healthy options far outsell these items, with cotton candy, French fries and pizza occupying the top three spots on the venue’s foodservice hit parade. The cotton candy comes in a variety of colors, including pink, blue and purple, and sells for $3.25 per bag, while a generous helping of French fries carries a price of $2.50 if served plain and $3 with cheese topping.

“I think the cotton candy is our biggest seller because it’s an item people don’t get at home, but also because we make it fresh, which is something you don’t find much anymore,” Dieter said. “People see it, smell it and are enticed to purchase it.”

Funway’s cheese fries, Dieter said, consistently enjoy more popularity than their un-topped counterpart, again in line with the fact the former are rarely, if ever, prepared in home kitchens. Meanwhile, pizza is a winner based on the fact that for families, it is a more wallet-friendly selection than burgers or other individual entrees.

“Customers like that they can feed four or five people with a $10.95 pizza, plus $6 for a pitcher of soda pop,” Dieter asserted. “This has been especially important in the economic downturn.”

On the beverage front, slushies win hands-down among children, and regular soda, rather than diet soda, is the adult favorite. Dieter attributed the center’s success with slushies to the novelty factor; “Like our fun foods, nobody will make them at home,” she said.

Slushies also take top beverage sales honors, at least, top kids’ beverage sales honors, at  Happy Tymes Fun Center in Warrington, Pa., where visitor counts total approximately 250,000 per year. Chocolate milk comes a close second to the icy drinks in terms of popularity among youngsters, and Diet and regular Coke are adults’ favorite.

Like Dieter, Colleen Pfaff, Happy Tymes’ foodservice manager, said sales generated by slushies trump those produced by other drinks because the former are a treat parents do not allow their children to consume on a regular basis. She deemed pizza and mildly spiced wings the center’s number-one and number-two fastest-moving food items given their status as the “most economical way to get a meal for the whole family.” A 10-slice pizza pie is available for $12.99; an order of 10 wings, for $8.99. An occasional Sunday special features two slices of pizza and a beverage for $5.29, including tax, but even when it is on the menu, 95 percent of patrons who order pizza opt for the whole pie. “Value is a very big deal here,” Pfaff stated.

Mozzarella sticks and funnel cakes were added to Happy Tymes’ concession lineup in late 2013.

“We weren’t sure how they would do, but both are selling very well,” Pfaff reported. “It has been a nice surprise, and is probably because a lot of people want finger food they can eat while they use our bowling facilities.”

Management of Kokomo’s Family Fun Center in Saginaw, Mich., also got a surprise when it introduced a new food item, mini corn dogs, last year. However, that surprise wasn’t a positive one, conceded Stacey Simmermacher, manager.

“We thought kids would really like them” for their novelty appeal, “but they weren’t a hit at all, and we’ll probably stop offering them soon,” Simmermacher stated.

That Kokomo’s is a family fun center puts pizza—available by the slice but purchased primarily in whole pie form, at about $8.50 for the cheese and pepperoni variety that is a staple of the operation—above all other menu items in terms of sales. “We do have some families who order burgers or chicken tenders, but pizza is much more affordable, and parents try to steer their kids toward that,” Simmermacher said.

Ice cream, too, holds top sales honors. “Almost everyone orders it, whether they’re having it for dessert after a meal or eating it on its own, as a snack,” Simmermacher claimed. “People just seem to associate it with a trip here.”

She added that year-round, Kokomo’s rings up far more sales of sugary beverages, including slushies and regular Mountain Dew and Pepsi, than of low-calorie and calorie-free options. “We do sell a lot of diet soda, but much, much less of it than regular soda,” she said. “I would guess that most guests think to themselves that a visit to a fun center is not the time to watch how much sugar they are getting, or if they are on a diet, it’s their one cheat day.”

Funtrackers Family Park in Hot Springs, Ark., where food generates 25 percent of revenues, is another of the go-kart and mini-golf facilities where pizza and ice cream vie for first place on the list of popular fare. “We serve homemade sausages, pasta dishes, Chicago-style Italian beef and salads, among other things, but with our pizza parlor next door to our facility, we are best known for pizza, so that is what sells,” stated Lisa Crispino, co-owner. “And ice cream just has a natural synergy with pizza, which puts it up there.”

Meanwhile, in Lynchburg, Va., Putt-Putt Family Fun Center sees the greatest demand for pizza and pretzels, with hot dogs occupying third place on the roster of best sellers. “Pizza is up there for us because we display it the most, it stays fresher longer and our customers just demand it,” observed Joe Aboid, owner, adding that foodservice accounts for 10 to 12 percent of his facility’s annual revenues. Pizza may be ordered for $2 per slice or $12 for a 16-inch pie.

As for pretzels, Aboid said, “they’re a good value, which is important; they’re very convenient to eat—and with lower fat, they are better for you than pizza or hot dogs.”

The operator pointed to louder cries among customers for non-caffeinated beverages, specifically caffeine-free carbonated beverages and Gatorade. “If I had to guess, I would say 60 percent of our beverage sales are regular colas, 30 percent are caffeine-free sodas and Gatorade and 10 percent is diet soda,” he said. “Mostly, here it’s ‘Let me have a Coke.’ ”

Aboid augmented his center’s menu in 2013, but with only partial success. A 100 percent Angus beef hot dog did not fare as well as anticipated and is no longer an option. Conversely, cotton candy has become quite popular.

“We had to charge $2.50 for the hot dog, which was too expensive for our clientele,” Aboid stated. “They are used to paying $1.50 for a hot dog, which is what our ‘regular’ ones cost them. As for the cotton candy, people like to watch it being made. And it’s like popcorn. You sell one, you sell a lot.” –

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