Trends in Fun Foods, Including Ice Cream, and Healthy Foods, Including Salads, at Amusement Parks and FECs

No trip to an amusement park or family entertainment center would be complete without the obligatory fun food item or two. Patrons view the leisure time they spend at one of these facilities as a chance to indulge in normally verboten treats. On the flip side, there are other patrons who yearn for healthier choices for themselves and/or their children. As this article found from interviewing officials from three entertainment venues, it is no doubt wise to provide a range of refreshments.

The Gametime Bar & Grill at iPlay America is a full-service restaurant and bar. Salads and wraps are offered, but are not best-sellers at the location.

The Bay Beach Amusement Park in Green Bay, Wis., has been around in one form or another since the 1890s. Through the years, it has evolved into a public park, albeit one with rides including a roller coaster and more recently a new Ferris wheel. “We’re continually expanding,” said Park Facilities Supervisor Stefanie Corsten who is also head of food and beverage. “Since 2011, we’ve added a new ride every year and it’s reflected in our visitation which has steadily increased. We’re trying to continue the trend. To go along with that, we’ve been adding more concession stands.” The park also has a full-size kitchen and is therefore capable of serving hot dogs and hamburgers. However, in terms of fun foods, items that are on the sweet side – cotton candy and slushies – tend to be the top-sellers. They’re simply the kinds of fun foods people equate with amusement parks, Corsten said.
Ice cream finds plenty of eager fans at Bay Beach Amusement Park. “We sell ice cream bars, pretty much anything on a stick – drumsticks, and more,” said Corsten. “Our top-selling ice cream is definitely the Popsicle Spongebob Squarepants Bar. I don’t know if it’s because it has gumball eyes, but it seems like if one kid gets one, every other kids sees it and wants one too.” Chocolate and vanilla soft serve ice cream is currently sold in two different areas of the park.

iPlay America employees holding food items. Among the attraction’s best-sellers are French fries, fried Oreos, and roasted nuts.

As for healthy options, Bay Beach has tried a few pre-packaged selections – items such as a carrot dipper, an apple dipper and some apple sauce squeeze packs. Corsten admitted they aren’t the greatest sellers. “When people come here, they’re going for a hamburger and French fries, not a hamburger and apple sauce.” The size of the park’s operation is really what holds them back from making their own salads and sandwiches. “Right now, we just don’t have the storage, the space or the prep area to really make our own salads or even store pre-made grab-and-go items. It’s definitely something we are trying to extend as the park expands.” The park does, however, have a grilled chicken sandwich with lettuce on its menu that sells very well, although it is definitely more of an adult item.
iPlay America in Freehold, N.J., bills itself as a premier indoor amusement park with all the fun foods one would expect to find in such a venue. “Our top sellers always consist of the boardwalk classics – French fries, fried Oreos, homemade fudge, and roasted nuts are some of our guests’ ultimate favorites,” said Senior Vice President and General Manager Samantha Unglert. While the park does offer soft serve ice cream, Mini Melts products surpass it in terms of popularity. “Our two top selling flavors are cotton candy and cookies and cream. Mini Melts are a great alternative for amusement parks because it gives you the ability to do big revenue with very limited payroll cost. Aside from re-stocking the machines and maintaining them, the product completely sells itself.”

A view of the bar at iPlay America. Non-traditional special events at the facility help introduce the location to customers.

Although there isn’t a huge selection of healthy options available inside the actual amusement park, iPlay America does have a full-service restaurant and bar on the premises. The restaurant offers a variety of salads and wraps which Unglert said sell fairly well. “However, I do find that our guests often have the mentality of ‘treat yourself a little’ when visiting a venue like ours, so they may consider a visit to iPlay America as a form of a ‘cheat’ day!”
Visitation was on an upward trend heading into 2020. Unglert attributed it to the many “out-of-the-box” experiences iPlay America offers including signature special events such as its Kids’ Club, concerts, comedy and other shows held in its event center, as well as sports signings plus meet-and-greets, and dance, karate and gymnastics competitions. “We’ve also been increasing traffic through our corporate events department including product launches, tradeshows and team-building events. By holding these non-traditional events at our venue, it introduces a variety of guests to our all indoor establishment,” she concluded.

A view of Broadway Sweets at iPlay America. Homemade fudge is a best-seller for the attraction.

When queried about fun foods, the general manager of Big Apple Fun Center in Kearney, Neb., thoughts turned to sweet fare. “About the only thing that we consider to be a dessert-type item would be our chimichangas,” said Kenny Owens. The concession stand serves up two flavors of mini-chimis – raspberry or dulce de leche – and patrons love the sugary, hot snack. Ice cream is not an option at the facility. As for salads, Big Apple Fun Center does offer them as healthy alternatives. “But, honestly, the number of salads we sell in a month I could count on one hand. Once here, people want the fried foods they can’t get at home.”

Big Apple Fun Center’s visitation was slightly up as the first quarter of 2020 was nearing completion. That was before the COVID-19 crisis hit however, and it closed its doors to the public until the virus threat reduces enough to conduct business as usual. Owen and his key staff are taking advantage of the closure opportunity to do a deep clean of the facility. “We clean everyday so it’s not like it’s anything new. But now we’re spending time cleaning the bowling ball racks and pulling out all the shoes and dusting the cubbies. We’re pulling out the gutters and cleaning areas that nobody ever sees. It’s keeping us busy, that’s for sure!”

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