By Karen Appold
When people visit a bowling center, they don’t just go for the fun of the game. Many guests want to make an afternoon or night out of their trip, and indulging in food offerings is also part of the experience.
Anthony Perrone, owner, Tampa, Fla.-based Pin Chasers, Inc., which has three locations, said pizza is its top-selling food item. “A few years ago we switched to a fresh dough product and hand-make our pizzas—after that there was surge is sales,” he said. “Pizza is an easy food to eat when bowling—it’s not too messy.”
Chicken is a consistent favorite, which Perrone attributed to some forms being healthier options and others being versatile, such as having buffalo style or mojo seasoning.
Pizza also takes the cake at Knuckleheads Trampoline Park * Rides * Bowling, Wisconsin Dells, Wis., said Amy Palmer, assistant general manager. “Pizza is a huge success because families make up the majority of our customer base,” she said. “Our 16-inch pizza can easily feed a family of four, plus they can choose different toppings on each half which keeps both children and adults happy.”
Fried cheese curds are another top seller, because they are very popular in the state of Wisconsin. “We are a very tourist-driven industry; when people visit from all over the country they can’t wait to try traditional Wisconsin cheese curds,” Palmer said.
For Brandon Wilder, technology/programs coordinator, Buffaloe Lanes Bowling Centers, Raleigh, NC, burgers, nachos and fries rule supreme. “They are easier to eat items while bowling and are fairly inexpensive,” he said.
At Big Al’s in Vancouver, Wash., Thomas V. King II, food and beverage director, said its famous nachos are popular because of their enormous size and quality ingredients.
Steve Bartek, vice president of food and beverage, Bowlero Corp., reported that chicken tenders, chicken wings and nachos are tops. “They are all made from scratch with fresh ingredients, and are shareable items for large groups,” he said.
Freshly baked cookies and brownies take top accolades in the dessert category at Pin Chasers. “Customers can smell them baking,” Perrone said. “Like pizza, they are easy to eat when bowling.”
Brownies, in particular the “Fudgy Brownie,” is Big Al’s biggest seller in this area. “It is designed to be a sharable item, it’s an easy sell to a table that of people who want to share a dessert,” King said.
Knuckleheads’ best-selling dessert item is Mini Melts—which are sold out of vending machines as well as at the snack bar. “Parents love them because they are offered in personal servings; each child can pick their own flavor,” Palmer said. “The ease of using a vending machine has a huge impact on sales. Parents can purchase them on their own and don’t have to worry about the stress of lines and rushed decisions.”
The Monster Cookie Melt is a best-seller at Bowlero Corp. “This giant chocolate chip cookie comes out warm and gooey,” Bartek said. “It is then topped with vanilla ice cream, chocolate sauce and whipped cream. This is another item that’s great to share among large parties.”
Among the center’s five locations, the constant best-seller for Wilder is cookies, either chocolate chip or sugar.
Pepsi products rule in the beverage category at Pin Chasers. However, Perrone has noticed an increased interest in non-fountain products in recent years. Specifically, specialty sodas in bottles and healthier non-carbonated beverages such as juices and iced tea are gaining popularity.
Knuckleheads’ top-selling non-alcoholic beverage is ICEE. “Kids can’t get enough of the classic flavors,” Palmer said. “As for our bar, anything simple sells well. Parents are focused on their kids and do not like spending extra time making decisions for themselves. We offer specials on traditional drinks such as margaritas, 16-ounce beers, and rum and cokes. These items are familiar and parents are comfortable making quick easy decisions without having to stress about what they are ordering.”
Sweet tea sells best at Buffaloe Lanes Bowling Centers. “We are located in the south and nothing beats a cold drink of sweet tea on a hot summer’s day,” Wilder said.
Best-selling cocktails are the Netflix & Chill, a raspberry vodka drink, and Capri Sun, which is comprised mainly of Malibu rum and fresh pineapple juice. “These drinks are vibrant in color and have a fun relatable name,” King said. “This encourages guests to post about our food on social media.”
The most popular beverages at Bowlero Corp. currently are tiki-style and tropical-themed cocktails. The Mai Tai and a Hurricane are on its new menu; customers love them as the weather gets warmer.
Newer Menu Items
Fresh menu offerings are all the rage at Pin Chasers, including salads and ground beef burger patties. “We make as many items as possible from scratch,” Perrone said.
Recently, Knuckleheads updated its menu and added a new Wisconsin specialty burger, mini corn dogs, fried Twinkies and other assorted sandwiches and burgers. “Classic bar and bowling alley food sells well,” Palmer said. “Our Wisconsin burger is a burger patty topped with a brat patty and bacon. It’s smothered with real Wisconsin cheddar, and a jalapeno beer cheese sauce, all served on a pretzel bun. This is our spin on a popular Wisconsin burger; tourists love to try unique Wisconsin food.”
Wilder said its most southern location offers home fries and potato cubes—a great alternative to traditional French fries. Another location has a great southwest eggroll, which includes shredded chicken and corn salsa in a deep fried eggroll. Its most northern center added mini donuts—which are cinnamon sugared, powder sugared or plain—a huge hit with kids.
Big Al’s recently added dirty fries to its menu. “Ground beef, peppadew peppers, beer-cheese fondue, cilantro and lime sour cream make this sharable item one of our top sellers,” King said.
New items include a cauliflower crust pizza and gluten-free individual pizzas, Bartek said. The Bowlero brand prides itself as an experiential brand, with a modern take on not only bowling but also its food items. “As low-carb items become more popular, we’re happy to create items that fit in this space,” he said. “So far, they’ve had a high demand and our customers love having more options.”
In addition to changing menu offerings, Perrone has made changes in his locations’ food experience and food quality. Traditionally, customers at bowling centers stood in line to order and get their food. “Our servers serve guests in lanes, creating a higher-end experience,” he said. The center is also using more China dishware instead of disposable plates.
“We’re trying to get away from snack bars and casual fast food and instead offer restaurant level quality of food,” Perrone said. “We don’t want people standing in line when they could be spending their time participating in paid activities at our center, such as arcade or redemption games.” In addition, customers don’t like waiting in line and have limited time.
Palmer said the facility has tried adding salads, grilled chicken and other health conscious options—without great success. “Our customers plan a day to splurge on themselves and their families, and that includes what they plan to eat,” she said. “We keep it simple and traditional, which is what works best.”
Food truck style food is increasingly popular at Bowlero centers. These street food items with big flavors include tacos, sliders and French fries. “These items not only taste great, but they are easy for customers to pick on while bowling,” Bartek said.