There are many moving parts involved in running a bowling center, especially one that is part of a larger entertainment venue. For this article, the owners and managers of four facilities around the country offered their best advice on how to keep things operating like a well-oiled machine.
At Uptown Alley in Surprise, Ariz., General Manager Scott Dittmer said it is helpful to paint a bigger picture for employees so as to coax the best performance from them. “I impart to them that we are in the hospitality business and not just a bowling alley,” he said and in fact, he incorporates this message it into his daily business plan via written direction and motivational encouragement. It starts with employees at the front desk and winds its way all the way back to the kitchen. “Our restaurant is no different than any other restaurant. It comes with a lot of responsibility,” Dittmer said. “Serving safe, top quality food does not happen by accident. Because it is such a critical, non-negotiable part of my business, my restaurant staff understands its importance. With that understanding, comes a sense of pride and purpose.”
The real tactic behind prompting staff members at Uptown Alley to achieve their full potential is to ensure daily and plentiful interaction with management, Dittmer said. Once again, he incorporates such interactions into his daily business plan so that they are certain to occur. Uptown Alley is home to 40 high-tech, regulation-sized bowling lanes and reported that annual visitation is flat compared to last year’s figures, mainly due to newer competition that opened in late 2018.
When it comes to staffing, Rock ‘n’ Bowl – with one location in New Orleans, La., and another in Lafayette, La., – believes that great people beget great people. “We focus on finding the right people and then asking our best people if they know someone else who is looking for a great place to work,” said Owner Johnny Blancher. This approach is the jumping off point for how both centers keep their front desks working efficiently because of course, there is so much more. “We also work very hard to give our desk operations the information they need to make the guest experience great. They’re armed with names and details of advanced bookings. They’re also armed with information about upcoming events,” he said. The only distinction is that front desk staff members’ ability to book anything is limited to what is occurring that day. Advance bookings are left to the back office and event coordination.
Food and beverage is the most important part of business at Rock ‘n’ Bowl, which welcomes approximately 100,000 guests annually, with each year showing slight improvement over the last. The customer always comes first, according to Blancher. He stressed the need for staff to get that message across. “We’re always on the customer’s side. It’s not so much service as it is hospitality. We keep our kitchens well organized but also aggressive. We err on the side of the customer. We allocate an entire brain to buying at the best price. We focus on cross utilization and efficient food handling. If we err on the side of waste, we’d rather it be for the customer’s benefit,” he explained. It always circles back to finding great people to fulfill service roles. Rock ‘n’ Bowl does its best to stretch everyone so that they meet their potential to be great workers. “We have a weekly meeting with the upper 20% of our team and we go over upcoming events and express to each other ways we think we can improve. Goals are made to be reached. There’s always a new goal to set,” he concluded.
JB’s On 41 in Milwaukee, Wis., runs a very large guest service training program for incoming employees. Custom made, the program is a combination of what management believes great guest service should be but at the same time, asks new employees what they think it should be as well. “Because if you ask yourself when you walk in somewhere – what is good guest service? – everybody is going to have a different answer,” said Assistant General Manager James Miller. “So we like to put that in their hands and give them a great guideline of what we expect but also inquire of them what they think great guest service is. And those two together, I believe, factor into the efficiency customers experience at our front counter and snack bar.”
JB’s On 41 completes yearly evaluations on all employees. However, at least once a quarter, management at the 35-lane facility likes to sit down and try to talk with all of the employees about what is working well and what is not. “I think employees like feeling they have some say about what is happening on a day-to-day basis. When they tell us something is wrong, we can fix it. I think it engages them to help create a better experience for the guests,” Miller said. There is also an employee incentive program in place centering around what are known as Code Green forms. “They’re basically forms employees are encouraged to fill out whenever they a) see anything positive going on in the center, or b) see anything positive going on with another employee,” Miller explained. Completed Code Green forms land on a manager’s desk and truly outstanding reports will result in various gift cards being awarded to the key people involved. JB’s On 41 must be doing something right. Despite competition from at least five new family entertainment centers opening in the greater Milwaukee area over the last year, business is holding steady!
Now in its eighth year of operation, The Alley in Charleston, S.C., is a busy place. “We’re actually more of a large scale restaurant, sports bar, entertainment and event venue that happens to have eight lanes of bowling,” explained Owner David Crowley. The Alley can handle a capacity crowd of 452 people and during the busy winter season, it will hit those numbers night after night. The front desk is the first point of contact for incoming guests, so it’s crucial the host be well informed. Managers on duty keep individuals manning the desk up to speed by providing them with a print-out that lists incoming events, reservations as well as the bowling desk’s lists of reservations on any given day.
The Alley’s full service restaurant tends to rely on seasoned service and bar staff that have been in the industry for several years. “It’s obviously an industry that has a lot of turnover but we are able to mitigate that turnover by qualifying who we bring in,” Crowley said. Not that promotion opportunities don’t exist. “When you have a team that works cohesively and the message trickling down from management is that people care….. well, it creates a culture. The end result is staff end up caring too and they love working in a place that is so unique and different from anywhere they’ve ever worked before.” In a town chock full of tempting entertainment venues, The Alley staff often choose to hang out at their own place of employ during off hours and bring in their friends. In Crowley’s opinion, that exemplifies how much they believe in the business.