Tips to Keep Food Sales Simmering
Best Menu and Food Equipment Additions

Undoubtedly, mini-golf courses and go-karts attract customers to family entertainment centers, but offering guests the right foods will make their visit more enjoyable and boost a center’s bottom line.

Classic Foods

Much like golfing and spring in the Garden City of Augusta, Ga., go hand in hand, so do classic foods and fun at Putt-Putt. “Our best food item is pizza. Has been, probably always will be, because it’s such an easy-to-eat-type of product,” said Mark Ross, manager.

Adam Hart, kitchen and operations manager of Funopolis in Commerce, Ga.,  recently added an all-time favorite to its center’s menu—the classic cheeseburger.  “It’s a three-quarter pound Black Angus cheeseburger, and since we added it, it has just sold and sold and sold,” Hart said.

Ross said he tried burgers, but has had better results in adding other items. “We’ve tried burgers over the years, and we still have the capability to prepare them,” he said. “But we’ve just gone with other options.”

Funnel cake, for example, is one of those menu choices. “It’s a product we can cook in our oven. It captures about 80 percent of the real carnival experience without the greasiness.  It fills a void, because it’s one of those different products that you don’t typically see at snack centers,” Ross explained.

Classic foods are big sellers for a good reason. “A simple menu is what people need in this industry,” said Lisa Lundgren, manager of Boomers!  in El Cajon, Calif. “Complicated menus can cause customers frustration while they’re in line trying to choose something versus just keeping it basic.”

Building on the Basics

Keeping a close eye on what sells well can give you a good indication of new things to try.

It’s what  Kevin Altobelli, manager of the 15,000-square-foot Mulligan Family Fun Center in Palmdale, Calif., did to expand their offering of bone-in wings, a favorite among their customers.  “We recently added boneless wings in different flavors,” Altobelli said. “I would say the boneless wings apply more to women and children, because they’re easier to eat.  About 45 percent of our wing orders are boneless. The margins are much higher on them. They’re definitely our best addition within the past year.”

Palmdale, touted as a best small town in 2011 by CNNMoney Magazine, is about 20 miles outside of nearby military bases, which Altobelli said is a tight-knit, family-oriented community.

To complement the traditional fare on their menu, Lundgren said, for interest, they rotate menu items every four months. “We added a specialty menu that features all gourmet-style items including burgers, hot dogs, pizza and Philly cheesesteaks. They’re really popular because they’re something other than the norm.”

Even with new menu additions, Ross said he continues to be surprised by the popularity of tried-and-true items, such as  Dippin’ Dots. “This ice cream is probably the most amazing of all of our food options. I think it’s still just as popular now as when we initially offered it,” he said.

Cooking Tools

The decision to invest in new food equipment often yields a return that is well worth the cost.

Ross discovered that adding equipment to offer his customers new drinks has been equally as profitable as new food choices.  “The Siberian Chill is a machine that makes frozen drinks in raspberry, cherry and pink lemonade flavors. It has pushed our drink sales up quite a bit,” he said.

By using first-rate ingredients, Altobelli has seen good results in yielding better food sales and improving the customer experience.  “Although we’re perceived as a snack bar, once people eat our food, they’re pretty impressed by it. We do tend to get favorable compliments, and I believe that’s due to quality ingredients, and overall, the food is just better than people expect,” he said. “For our pizza, we make everything from scratch, and it makes a difference.”

Although they’re yet to see what the earnings will net, Hart recently added a Lil’ Orbits Donut Maker. “We just want to expand to offer something sweet to our customers,” he said. –

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