Focusing on Food
Fun Trends at Arenas, Museums and Waterparks

By Karen Appold

Because Wilderness Resort in Wisconsin Dells, Wis., is a family-focused resort, pizza is among its top food sellers. “Pizza is an American staple that parents and kids alike love!” said Eric Borota, food and beverage manager. In fact, pizza comprises 25 percent of all food sold at its quick-service food outlets. The resort has four indoor and four outdoor waterparks.

In response to a need for onsite food items for families, in 2015 the resort opened its own pizza restaurant on the property named Klondike Pizza Kitchen. “Not only does it offer dine-in and pick-up options, but it also delivers to any of the 1,100-plus sleeping options on the property,” Borota said. Some unique options include the “Boomtown Golden Nugget” featuring chicken, bacon and red onions topped with fresh Wisconsin cheese curds. “This is a fun twist on pizza that you can’t get at home and it tastes delicious,” Borota said.

Beyond children’s food offerings, Wilderness Resort has a strong culinary program and prides itself on offering unique items for guests with more mature palates to enjoy as well. For example, at Survivor’s—its island-themed sports bar, two top sellers are taco entrées. The Baja fish tacos (which feature blackened cod, deep fried avocado, lime slaw and serrano cream) and the east west tacos (shredded seasoned beef, pickled onions, lime slaw, cilantro, feta and Asian inspired salsa roja) are always among its best-sellers.

Marcus Locke, executive chef at the Rozzelle Court Restaurant at The Nelson Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, Mo. Among its menu items, the museum’s eatery offers two different daily entrees.

“Our taco entrées are popular because they cater to people on the go,” Borota said. “Guests can enjoy small, handheld menu items that they can easily take to any of our waterparks. Another reason is that they’re new. Adding new menu items shows our appreciation to returning guests by giving them something different to try and showing them we’re constantly working to improve their experience.”

Jessica Helms. senior executive chef at the Moda Center in Portland, Ore. Helms said nachos and chicken tenders are among the top sellers for the facility.

Jessica Helms, senior executive chef at the Moda Center in Portland, Ore., which is the home of the Portland Trail Blazers’ NBA team, said nachos and chicken tenders are among its top sellers. “These foods are popular because fans need to keep their hands free for a craft beverage and for cheering on their team,” she said. “Also, nachos and chicken tenders are very kid friendly and we are a family atmosphere. The chicken tenders are crispy and stay hot long enough to make it to your seat.”

For Tim Miller, waterpark supervisor, DryTown Water Park, Palmdale, Calif., the DryTown signature burger, chicken strips and fries, and supreme nachos are best sellers. “The portion size is great, the items are priced so guests receive a good value for their money and these items are tasty,” he said.

Wilderness Resort Candy Maker Gabby Holmes preparing handmade Oreo Pops. The resort has four indoor and four outdoor waterparks.

The Nelson chicken salad is the most popular food item for Marcus Locke, executive chef at the Rozzelle Court Restaurant located at The Nelson Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, Mo. “It’s an easy go-to item,” he said, adding that the eatery also offers two different daily entrées along with sandwiches that sell well. 

East West Tacos from Survivor’s Bar & Grill at Wilderness Resort.  Accompanied by chips and salsa, the dish features shredded seasoned beef, pickled onions, lime slaw, cilantro, feta and Asian-inspired salsa roja. Taco entrees are top-selling for the eatery.

Another chicken dish, specifically chicken tenders, is the most popular food item at the Children’s Museum of Houston’s Fresh Café in Texas. “Children are familiar with them,” said Connie Schnupp, director of retail operations at Fiddle Sticks Toys, Fresh Café and Top S.E.C.R.E.T. Gear Shop at the museum. “They recognize what they are; it’s their go-to option for when they’re not eating at home. Furthermore, parents don’t want to deal with the hassle of a fancy meal. They would rather choose finger foods for their kids when they’re out and about.” 

At the Toyota Center in Houston, Anthony Lopez, regional manager, said the BBQ brisket is tops. “We put a lot of work into our smoked meats that you wouldn’t necessarily expect from an arena,” he said. “We smoke all of our briskets and turkey overnight just like the state’s best BBQ joints do, and we have our own special sauces.”

Delectable Desserts 

To top off their day, some guests also want to treat themselves to something sweet. At Wilderness Resort, that might involve taking a stroll into the Candy Cabin, which opened in late 2018. The store makes 95 percent of all the products it sells in-house, and they are made in front of guests. “We hand dip candy apples, make our own fudge, mold our own chocolates and cook our own caramel,” Borota said. “Watching candy makers work has become an attraction for guests. The smells that float through our hallways coming from this shop are mouthwatering.” 

Helms’ most popular desserts are anything made by local ice cream purveyors. “We have Salt & Straw hand-dipped ice cream as well as Ruby Jewel hand-crafted ice cream sandwiches,” she said. 

Wilderness Resort Food & Beverage Manager Eric Borota. “ …Adding new menu items shows our appreciation to returning guests by giving them something different to try and showing them we’re constantly working to improve their experience,” Borota said.

Ice cream is also sought after at Fresh Café, specifically the Blue Bell brand which is beloved in Texas. “Flavors vary, but vanilla and chocolate remain guests’ favorite,” Schnupp said. Cupcakes are the second most popular dessert. Kids are drawn to the cute designs. 

At Drytown Water Park, guests crave funnel cakes with all of the toppings. “They are sweet, crunchy and yummy,” Miller said. Attendance was down for 2019 as of late June, because the summer temperatures have been much cooler than normal. 

Key lime pie is highly sought after at Rozzelle Court Restaurant. “Guests choose it because it’s rich and fresh,” Locke said. The museum has about 500,000 guests per year. Numbers fluctuate based on its exhibits. 

Freshly baked giant cookies whet guests’ palettes at the Toyota Center. “They’re a fun, convenient treat during an event, and since [they are] fresh they are very desirable,” Lopez said.

Tips to Sell More Food 

For any restaurant, understanding your demographic is key when looking to boost food sales. “It’s important that we comprehend what guests are most likely to want while here on vacation, and provide these offerings accordingly,” Borota said. “We’ve enjoyed gathering this information from guests over the years. Who better to tell us what they want, than them?” Wilderness Resort’s annual visitation is more than one million, and that number is staying steady.

Portland has a diverse and educated food crowd. “Our main goals with presenting new food to guests are having an amazing and original presentation, and then making sure that flavors are on point and consistent,” Helms said. 

The Klondike Golden Nugget pizza from Klondike Pizza Kitchen at Wilderness Resort. The restaurant was opened in 2015 in response to a need for onsite food items for families.

Schnupp focuses on several areas when looking to sell more food, beginning with presentation and quality. “Food’s got to look good enough to eat and taste good,” she said. “But the way it’s served also plays a huge role. It doesn’t have to be served on the finest china, but dishes and dining ware should reflect cleanliness and practicality.”

Customer service is also key. “A smile goes a long way,” Schnupp said. “Sometimes customers won’t even remember what they had. But they will always recall if they had a bad experience with a staff member. So training your staff to be friendly, efficient and attentive to customers makes all the difference.”

Finally, food items need to be reasonably priced. “Don’t price-gouge your customers,” Schnupp said. “They know how much things cost.” Nearly 800,000 guests visited the museum last year and that number has remained steady.

Lopez said that people eat with their noses first. “The aromas of freshly-popped popcorn, brisket just out of the smoker or zesty tossed garlic and buffalo wings draw people in,” he said. “We strategically place different cuisines around the arena, so fans get a sense for our great variety and can choose their favorite option.” Toyota Center welcomes roughly 1.5 million fans every season. 

Wilderness Resort Candy Cabin employee Nicole Deppe stocking candy bins. The attraction has a strong culinary program.

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