Bowling Centers: Getting Your Food and Beverage Sales on a Roll

At Big Al’s Inc., in Vancouver, Wash., everything needs to be giant and overwhelming—including food and beverage portions. “Our food matches our brand and has guests saying ‘wow’,” said Thomas King II, food and beverage director at the three facilities, which are an average 65,000 square feet in size.

Thomas King II, food and beverage director, Big Al’s. “Our food matches our brand and has guests saying ‘wow,’ “ he said.

Thomas King II, food and beverage director, Big Al’s. “Our food matches our brand and has guests saying ‘wow,’ “ he said.

Names of food items on the menu reflect the “big” theme and help to upsell products. For example, its smallest portion of nachos is actually called “big,” while the large portion is called “famous.” The latter exceeds three pounds and is more than 20 inches tall. “It’s a mountain of nachos designed for large groups,” says King, who said the facility prides itself on sharable food items. This works well, because most customers are part of groups of four or more.

When other patrons catch a glimpse of “famous nachos” being delivered to another party, they are enticed to buy them for themselves. “People are impacted by the size, and trust other buyers’ instincts,” King said.

In addition to the nachos, 22-ounce “big lemonades,” particularly prickly pear lemonade and spiked watermelon lemonade, have made a big splash. “They come served in drinkware with large handles and look very cool,” he said.

At Big Al’s, staff spend a lot of time getting the menu just right. “Every year we spend weeks preparing for menu changes,” King said. “We want items to stay fresh and we strive to be a leader in our industry for unique and crave-worthy items.”

The theme is big, even for the food choices, at Big Al’s Inc., in Vancouver, Wash.

The theme is big, even for the food choices, at Big Al’s Inc., in Vancouver, Wash.

King usually doesn’t get rid of menu items that are good sellers. “If we try something new that doesn’t work well, we immediately remove it and try to find the next big item,” he said. Ten years ago the first menu featured 155 items, now it’s down to 45 to 50. “We are producing more revenue; food and liquor costs are better and food delivery times are lower. Guests are the happiest they’ve ever been.” A reduction in menu items has also resulted in lower inventory, less time needed to do inventory, lower food costs and more room on pantry shelves.

King said that if you have too large of a menu, it can disable your restaurant. “It overwhelms guests,” he said, who have difficulty finding their favorites among so many choices. Furthermore, Big Al’s strives to make every item a one-of-a-kind dish, which would be hard to do with over 150 choices.

King and his team also devote time to creating catchy names for menu items. “We are ready to launch a new hot wing program, which will have the same names as the nachos—‘big and famous’” he said. The three facilities bring in 500,000 guests annually.

Offer Special Items 

To promote food sales, Allison Jennings, general manager, WOW! Zone Family Entertainment Center, Mankato, Minn., said the facility has food specials every weekend which consist of items that are not currently on the menu. “We post pictures of the specials on our Facebook page prior to the weekend to create buzz about them,” she said. “Table tents highlight daily food specials, desserts and local winery options.”

Furthermore, wait staff services bowling lanes in an effort to increase food and beverage sales. This is beneficial for several reasons—many people do not know that they can eat and drink on the lanes and it avoids customers having to walk to the snack bar to place an order, which they may not do at all. Recently, the center added handheld ordering devices for servers on the lanes so staff can focus on increasing sales and take fewer steps to enter orders.

This big beverage is on the menu at Big Al’s, Inc.

This big beverage is on the menu at Big Al’s, Inc.

Regarding beverages, staff tell customers about which signature drinks are available. In addition, the center creates signature drinks for special groups and events. “This encourages them to have their event at our location again in order to get the drink,” Jennings said. Signage and posters highlight happy hour and late night happy hour specials, and alcohol and beer selections are clearly visible to customers.

During parties, a bartender services a private VIP area. “We work with groups to provide options that best fit their budget, such as an open bar, limited bar, cash bar and drink tickets,” Jennings said. “A variety of food options, including a buffet, plated meals and limited menus are available.”

Give Out Samples

Brianna Moreno, food and beverage manager, Tenpins & More, in Rio Rancho, N.M., has found success in putting different menu items on sale. “We write sale items on a blackboard each week,” she said. Furthermore, “Our customers love when we try new menu items or put a twist on an established item. Our specials do fairly well.” For example, when the center started making its own hamburger patties, it reduced the price for a short time. After customers had a chance to taste the difference, it increased the price back to its original price.

In an effort to sell more beverages, Tenpins & More handcrafts several signature alcoholic beverages. That technique, along with the freshness factor, significantly drives bar sales. The bar has a celebrity tap handle for well-known or new brands.

Because the food and bar areas are quite a long way from some of the lanes, as there are 24 lanes, wait staff walk along the concourse and lower playing areas carrying drink trays filled with freshly made colorful drink samples that catch bowlers’ attention. “After testing a drink, people are enticed to order one,” Moreno said. Occasionally, wait staff may give out food samples as well when they have a new offering. A phone system is also available for players to call in food and beverage orders.

Regarding food and beverages for parties, Tenpins & More has several different menu themes to choose from, such as Mexican, Italian or Chinese, along with other offerings such as fruit salad or veggies. The bar may feature specials on pitchers of beer, margaritas, sangrias or soda. The facility sees around 140,000 guests annually.

Provide Great Customer Service 

Christine Vitolo, owner, Saint Lucie Lanes in Port St. Lucie, Fla., and Jupiter Lanes in Jupiter, Fla., is also a proponent of giving out samples, both on the floor and at the ordering counter. “This works well because we allow allows customers to learn about the quality of our food and the different menu items,” she said.

Samples are based on whatever particular promotion is in place. For instance, “healthy alternatives” would be a turkey wrap with avocado. “It’s easy to prepare and slice for tasting,” Vitolo said. “Another would be home-baked muffins, which again are easy to portion into individual tastings. Pizza is always a great item to ‘whet the palate.’ ”

To get more customers drinking beverages, specials are announced regularly during open and league play. TV screens stream luscious colorful photographs inviting guests to sample foods and beverages, and a master of ceremonies invites guests to the lounge and sports bar area.

Regarding parties and special events, wait staff constantly work the floor. “This provides one-stop shopping,” Vitolo said. “Everyone enjoys being catered to, and the bowling center customer is no exception. You can have the best food and beverages, but without customer service it is all wasted energy.” More than 100,000 guests frequent the center annually.

Simply put, there are lots of ways to increase your bowling center’s food and beverage sales. Get your sales on a roll with these tips.

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