Roller Skating Trends
Music, Lights, Food, and Arcade Games

What roller rink trends generate the most business? How do centers pick the right kind of music for their skaters? And what does the food and arcade picture look like for rinks around the nation? 

At Star Skate in Ada, Okla., Manager Jacob Faulkenberry said that besides skating itself, “We have arcade games and a snack bar that do very well for us generally. We mostly have night sessions, and kids often don’t get a chance to eat before they come here, so being able to get food is very important.” Currently, he noted that the most popular food items at the center are items such as pizza, nachos, hot dogs, wing bites, cheese sticks, and tater tots. “We’re planning to offer something new every now and then, but there’s nothing specific right now. Primarily we tend to stick with these favorites.”

A view of the skating floor at The Rink. The center’s visitation is rising annually, according to the manager.

Faulkenberry is not currently planning any changes with his arcade, either. “The games are primarily there for smaller kids who may not be good at skating, or for parents who don’t want to skate. We have a lot of older, arcade game styles, and a few driving games.”

The rink focuses on a family orientation, and when it comes to music, that means keeping music “PG-13 at the most. After 9 p.m. we will delve into more popular songs that may not be as appropriate for kids. I grew up in the 1990s, so I tend to play a lot of material from that era, but we also keep newer music on file. We have everything that kids are listening to now as well as older music.” 

The center’s visitation is up this year, and Faulkenberry noted that “People know us, we’ve been around for a while, so there is pretty constant business even in our slower seasons. Generally, people seem more interested in the idea of something active like roller skating.”

In Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, Jackson Lanterman, manager at Skate Plaza FEC said that when it comes to profit centers at his rink, no pun intended, “Our birthday parties take the cake behind skating itself as the largest area.” Beyond the parties and skating, “It’s the snack bar for sure, and following that, it would be our arcade.” 

A food concession at The Rink. The snack bar, which offers fun foods done well, is a big draw for the center.

The snack bar offers specials and regular, inexpensive food items that appeal to what Lanterman termed the “bulk of our clientele – junior high, and a younger high school age. We’ve tried to expand our $1 menu, and that does very well for us. That includes items such as Cup of Noodles, bagged chips, and the most popular of all, our chocolate chip cookies, which we sell for 50 cents each. We bake them here from dough that we’ve purchased.” If the scent of chocolate chip cookies baking isn’t alluring enough, Lanterman also offers slightly higher-priced items such as “pizza whole or by the slice, a giant soft pretzel, chicken nuggets, fries, hot dogs, corn dogs, and ice cream, as well as a variety of nachos.” He added “It’s very nice for our guests and for us to offer those $1 items though; they’re great for kids who may only have a few bucks in their pockets.” Any changes planned on the menu? “We’re always on the lookout for new items, but there’s no major changes in the near future.”

The rink’s arcade games are primarily redemption, and what Lanterman called the “Stuff Shop” – where winners get to exchange tickets for candy or a prize-is well stocked and adds to interest in the arcade. “We have some older arcade-style games from the 1980s, but they are primarily up-to-date games. The redemption feature is really important for the kids who come here.”

While parties focus on the 10-and-under crowd, rink patrons overall fit a wider range of ages, so when it comes to music, Skate Plaza’s play-list is equally varied. “I just instruct my DJs to update their playlists regularly. We have a service that we use for a monthly fee, and they’re always adding the newest songs that are the most popular on the radio,” he asserted. “We have a regular rotation of music, plus new material. We take into consideration the age of our audience; for example, on Saturday, which is our big birthday party day, the music caters to a younger age, and we play more classics.” 

Visitation is up at Skate Plaza this year. “We’re heading into our busy season, when weather forces people indoors, but it’s already a trend. I think the increase is due to social media in part. I’ve done a much better job this year with that kind of marketing.”

In Lynnwood, Wash., at Lynnwood Skate & Bowl, General Manager Jessica White said that after roller skating itself, the activity she offers that generates the most business is bowling, which is essentially tied with skating for first place. “Skating appeals more to the kids, and bowling appeals more to adults,” she explained. After bowling and skating, her café, and the game arcade are next in popularity. 

When it comes to food, she said, “We have a grill, a broiler, deep fryer, and pizza, so there are lots of choices when it comes to food; at the arcade we have about 30 to 40 games which really draws both kids and adults. We have [one] arcade on the skating side and another on the bowling side of our venue.”

White is currently planning some menu updates for her dining, but there’s nothing specific locked in yet. “We are always adding to stay current as possible; right now it’s kind of like a Red Robin-type of food with grilled burgers, loaded nachos, French fries, and pizza being the most popular items we offer.”

With the arcade, changes are already happening. “We’re about to make a switch to redemption-based games, which are more popular. We were unable to do so until now, due to a city law here and a law in Washington State about gambling.” She explained, “We had to get a gambling license, and our city had some ordinances that needed to be updated. Our games company did the work to look into it and get us into redemption games.” White just obtained the facility’s license to make the redemption switch. “It’s going to be a big deal for us, and should increase sales in the arcade tremendously.”

When it comes to rink music, White uses a service. “We go by age group, with what we refer to as ‘clean’ playlists for families and on weekends. We use FEC, a music service that builds our playlists, and we can make custom selections from that. We always take music requests, as well,” she attested. “We do adult skating sessions on Monday and Thursday, and we manage the playlist entirely ourselves for those sessions. We have a DJ come out and do sets based on the crowd, and on feedback from the crowd.” Thursdays, her playlist focuses on “club house-style music, so it will be heavier on R&B. On Monday, the music has a broader range, with top hits from the 70s, 80s, and 90s that appeal to a little older crowd.” White noted, “We have a lot of regulars; we have been here for a long time and have some guests who’ve been coming here 20 years and longer – so it is important they skate to the music they like.” On Friday evenings, the rink caters to a predominantly teen crowd, White related, “So we have a current top-40 sound for that session.”

Due to an increase in promotion efforts, White sees her center’s visitation rising. “The fact that we are both a skating rink and bowling alley, plus our arcade, and the birthday parties we offer, that all adds to visitation. We are doing 20 to 40 birthday parties a weekend, and this is the start of our busy season, which is October through April. So, we expect visitation to continue to rise. People are looking for more activities to do as families, activities that you can’t replicate at home. And we offer that,” she explained. 

A display of skates and flyers at The Rink in Sacrameno, Calif. The arcade is among the top money-makers for the center.

At Skateland Northridge in Northridge, Calif., General Manager Courtney Bourdas Henn related that arcade games and her snack bar are the most popular profit centers at her rink after skating itself. “We have pizza and snack food, but we’ve also expanded our food offerings recently,” she reported. “Over the last two years we’ve added a lot of catering, including platter-type offerings such as fresh vegetables, fruits, soup and salad, food which particularly appeals to party groups. We do a lot of parties.” As far as the arcade, she said “The arcade is a small part of our business over all. Our focus is on skating. But we do add new games and change out older ones on a regular basis.”

In terms of musical choices, Bourdas Henn uses a music service, but also includes DJs on specific nights. “We have an oldies night, R&B, a current-music college night, and an adult night that is a mix of styles from the 50s to the 90s. We have family nights and day-time skating that is geared to younger kids, and for those we mix in movie sound track music from Disney, and classics like the ‘Hokey Pokey.’”

Visitation is “Definitely up. We’re super excited. We’ve been on an upcycle for the last several years, and we see the 4th quarter of 2018 as poised to replicate the other three quarters and finishing strong.” The reason for the uptick, she believes, is that skating itself has been seen more widely in films and on television. “That kind of exposure draws more interest. And we added a new skating floor a few years ago that is just gorgeous, maple hard wood, which is the best surface to skate on. And our location is hyper guest-focused, so our skaters really enjoy coming here and spreading the word about us.” In addition to these draws, “We operate within Los Angeles’ so-called ‘30-mile zone’ for filming, and we get a lot of groups coming in here to do that.”

At The Rink, located in Sacramento, Calif., Manager Dayna Johnson termed her snack bar and arcade the top money-making centers for her facility, after skating. “Our snack bar is a big draw. We have the usual items – pizza, nachos, hot dogs, pretzels – just your fun junk food, but we do it well. There’s nothing new planned in terms of our regular menu, but we do offer some different selections for special events, such as an all-night skate or a Friday the 13th night.” As to the arcade, “When we hear of a new game that seems like a fit, we’ll add it. But we don’t add new games on a regular basis.”

To get the music right for skaters at her venue, Johnson relies on the “Top 100 Billboard music lists to find music people like and relate to. Then, we put our own sound track together. Our DJs build a play list, and are always updating music with newer material. We also do a lot of 80s music, because it’s fun to skate to.”

Johnson’s visitation is rising annually. “You are starting to see roller skating in music videos and commercials more often, which increases the appeal of visiting a rink. And we do postings on Facebook, plus we keep a pretty good website that I update frequently, especially for events. All of these things improves attendance.” 

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