By Elizabeth Wickham
When it comes to food service at Family Entertainment Centers, pizza is the food of choice, according to managers and owners interviewed for this article.
Brendan Connor, food and beverage manager at Arnold’s Family Fun Center in Oaks, Pa., said his top selling foods are pizzas and burgers. “Our pizzas sell well because it feeds the entire family. For our burgers, we have standard toppings and also build your own burgers. People seem to enjoy that.”
When adding menu items at The Hub, the center’s restaurant, Connor said, “We seek to find something that is price friendly for a family. We’re also looking into things that are fun treats like ice creams and slushies.”
New for Arnold’s in 2020: “We are starting a cafe expansion. We have a full restaurant and a snack bar. We’re adding a cafe area where you can pick up small bites like a fresh baked cookie or an ice cream cone. I mentioned slushies for the kids, but we’re going to introduce alcoholic slushies for parents, like beer and wine slushies,” Connor said.
Arnold’s sees more than 100,000 visitors each year, although attendance is down slightly by 3 percent. Connor said that is due to stronger competition coming into the area.
At the Main Event in Oklahoma City, Okla., Michael Yates, technical service manager, said pizza is their top seller. “People come in here for pizza and wings. We also have a full-sized bar. Pizza is fast for what they’re trying to do. They are here to have fun and good food, but not necessarily a fine-dining
experience,” Yates said.
Main Event has more than 40 locations throughout the country and Yates said that food selection is usually a corporate-based decision. “But it’s done based on the feedback we get from our guests. We talk about it together and corporate makes the decisions.” Some of the changes to the menu Yates has seen are variations on burgers or more flavors of wing sauce.
Yates said, “On average we have 400,000 visitors a year. Some years it goes down and some years it goes up. It fluctuates based on what’s going on in the world.”
The Wild Island Family Adventure Park in Sparks, Nev. near Reno is divided into two parts, a family entertainment center and a water park. Craig Buster is general manager of the Coconut Bowl FEC which includes two bars, a grill and they are adding a food truck.
Buster said his top selling foods are sodas, fries, pizza, burgers, and Dippin’ Dots. “Pizza is the most popular item, but soda and fries sell well too because they’re quick grab and go stuff for people.” Buster’s theory on why pizza is their top seller, “Our pizza quality is high and extremely consistent. It’s the same every time because first the cook looks at it, then expo and then the server looks at it. Three pairs of eyes are looking at our pizzas. Consistency is key for us.”
When adding new items to the menu Buster said, “We get a good cross section of people to try things out. Food is so subjective, so we try to get different ages, even ethnicities to try things. It’s mostly the people who work for us.” He also explained that availability and cost are considerations. “Can we get it consistently? Can we get it at a certain price point?”
Buster said they continually revamp their menu. “We constantly switch it up. We reevaluate our menu every six months. If there are items that aren’t selling, we will remove them and add something new. We moved to digital menus a few years back. We’re looking to bring in a couple consultants to help us with menu design. There’s an art to menu design that helps sell more food.”
When discussing what the future brings for their food service, Buster said, “Staying on top of current trends, especially with alcohol, can be one of the most challenging things. Trends will come in and be gone in six months. You need to strike while the iron is hot. That tells your guests that you’re current.”
Buster said they see approximately 500,000 visitors annually. “Our business stayed the same for a couple years and then we opened up a 50,000-square-foot expansion and it almost doubled our attendance.” Buster said their family entertainment center is quite large at 125,000 square feet of indoor space.
Glenn Feldman, owner of Oasis Family Fun Center in Glen Mills, Pa., agreed that pizza is the top seller. “Pizza is our number one best-seller followed by chicken fingers and French fries,” he said. “Our audience is kids under 12 and that is what they like to eat. People talk to us about having healthier foods and we try them and they don’t sell as well as our top three items.”
When adding new items to their menu, Feldman said they try to utilize ingredients on hand. “We do try different things all the time. We’re trying cheese steaks right now. We include ingredients that we already have, for example we have grilled cheese sandwiches, so we’re using our cheese for the cheese steaks. We do a bunch of different salads and we use the same ingredients for our party veggies platters. We try to come up with new things that don’t require us to bring in a bunch of new ingredients.”
Looking ahead at their food service, Feldman explained that their clientele is a driving force. “We deal mainly with parents of young kids and they don’t want to wait. They don’t have patience for it, even though when they go to a regular restaurant they might be willing to wait, but here they don’t. We’re trying to bring in healthier grab and go items. We brought in avocado toast from Sabra and it’s doing well, although not as well as pizza and chicken fingers. We’re adding smoothies and other things that are quick and healthier with less sugar.”
Feldman said his attendance is around 300,000. “We saw a slight decrease last year after we just completed six years of steady growth. We’ve been in business for 15 years.”
“Our main thing is pizza,” said Eric Gilbert, manager of Putters Family Entertainment Center in Eugene, Ore. “It’s really good pizza and it’s a good food that goes with parties.” Putters menu states “dough made daily, whole milk mozzarella and fresh ingredients.” They offer standard pizza choices to more exotic ones like the El Cerdo Feliz with fresh spinach, Spanish chorizo, roasted peppers, red onion, and Manchego cheese.
To select new foods to add to their menu, Gilbert explained, “If we can do something of high quality and make it consistent, then it’s probably worth doing.”
Gilbert said, “We change up our menu every year. We add a couple items and get rid of a few items based on what’s popular and what’s new. We like to keep it fresh.”
“We have been consistently growing each year. When we first started, it wasn’t unusual to see a 25% increase in a year. We don’t have increases like that now, but our growth is steady,” Gilbert added.