Pandemic-related labor shortages are challenging a myriad of American businesses this year, especially seasonal and resort attractions. But a survey of mini-golf and go-kart parks around the country revealed a perhaps-surprising degree of employee loyalty. Patrons this summer will often be greeted by the same familiar faces that welcomed them in the past.
“We have a small staff, just two people, so it’s been really simple,” said Debbie Blake, who owns Swingin’ Safari Mini-Golf in Chandler, Ariz. “We just rehired them again after lockdown.”
It helps that Swingin’ Safari is a year-round, indoor facility. After closing for two months last year, the three-year-old business reopened and has seen attendance steadily increase. “It’s definitely picking up,” Blake said in mid-May, just before Memorial Day.
Last year’s employees are also returning at Swing-A-Round Fun Town in St. Charles, Mo. “The same people come back from college to work here,” explained Manager Tiffany Venable. Such loyalty is more typical at a small, family-run attraction like Swing-A-Round Fun Town, which is typically open from March through October.
With a seasonal staff returning from previous years, Brookside Mini-Golf in Yonkers, N.Y., was gearing up for a busy summer. “Hiring is never easy, that’s for sure,” said Anthony Costa, who has owned the facility for over a decade, in late May. “I’ve had no problems yet, but I still have to hire for the concessions.” The mini-golf facility, located in Westchester County’s Tibbetts Brook Park, opens in May and closes sometime in the fall; concessions open in late June.
Costa said 2021 will bring its challenges — chief among them, he complained, “that nobody knows what to do about masks right now.” But one thing is for certain: “This year’s going to be better than last year.”
At Great Wolf Lodge Water Park in Kansas City, Kan., Howl In One Mini-Golf is a year-round attraction, which makes both hiring and retention easier. Even so, the facility has been recruiting new employees throughout the spring as pandemic regulations ease and attendance rises, according to Human Resources Coordinator Joyce Herrera.
Great Wolf hosts biweekly job fairs to attract candidates from a competitive labor pool, which Herrera said has been very effective. “We look for people who are enthusiastic and eager,” she noted. “Those qualities are essential if you’re working in hospitality and entertainment.”
New Great Wolf hires typically undergo several weeks of training. It starts with a basic orientation around the facility, its protocols and policies, including the latest guidelines for pandemic safety. Next, employees train specifically within their department; for example, new mini-golf hires learn their way around the links.
Mini-golf and go-kart operators agree that personality is the top factor in a successful employee.
“I look for people who are fun and energetic,” noted Debbie Blake of Swingin’ Safari. “It’s a fun place, so we want our employees to have fun and be happy, and to convey that feeling to our customers.”
After all, leisure attractions are all about having a great time — and that requires warm, personable service, according to operators. “The best mini-golf employees are open and friendly,” said Venable at Swing-A-Round Fun Town. There are no particular technical skills necessary for the job, she added. “The register is pretty simple, and there’s not much involved with the equipment, aside from occasionally having to fix the batting cages,” Venable said.
For Costa at Brookside Mini-Golf, the biggest challenge is finding employees willing to put down their phones and look customers in the eye. “With the younger generation, they’re glued to their phones, and that’s my pet peeve,” he said. “You’re serving the public, you should not be on your phone.”
Determining which potential hires are likely to put down the screen and engage with customers “is hit or miss today,” Costa added. “I’m a great guy to work for, but I’m a stickler. I like things done a certain way.” To get new workers up to speed, Costa relies on his longtime, trusted staff for training.
In Kaneohe, Hawaii, employee hiring has never been an issue at Glow Putt Productions, a mini-golf outfit in the Windward Mall. That’s because Owners Gerry and Christel Houser share all the responsibilities, relying solely on family over the past 20 years in business. “It’s just my husband and me, so we don’t need to hire anybody,” affirmed Christel Houser.
Glow Putt Productions was shuttered for several months when the mall was closed during lockdown, but Houser said 2021 is looking positive. “It’s coming back, slowly but surely,” the mini-golf owner reflected. “We’re doing fine. And we’re very thankful.”