By Carimé Lane
A night of bowling just wouldn’t be the same without a burger and beer on the side. In this article, four bowling alley owners and managers dished on their latest in best-selling food and updates to their kitchens, plus a bit about how they ensure their customer service is top notch, too.
At Madison Park Bowl in Madison Heights, Mich., General Manager Jackie Corazza said most of their best-selling foods are handmade. Those include deep fried dill pickles, homemade Caesar dressing used over salad and in wraps, and potato skins. The potato skins were the most recent homemade addition to their menu: Due to the pandemic, the supply chain for potato skins broke down. As a result, they decided to create their own homemade recipe for the skins.
In the kitchen, they work with a Vulcan double oven and grill with a fixed burner and four fryers to feed crowds of 200 people.
“We’ve made do with what we have,” Corazza said.
This set up works well for them, so they’re not interested in spending money on an upgrade.
“Consistency is the key to good customer service,” said Corazza. “Without consistency, I don’t think we would have the food sales we have today.”
All kitchen staff in the 20,000-square-foot center follow the same procedure when preparing food. For instance: All staff are taught to use their in-house recipes, portion control and to cook and present so each menu item is served exactly the same every time. “Our guests can count on their favorite item being the same from the first time to the last time they order,” Corazza said.
Seventy-five thousand guests attend on an annual basis. Lately, there has been a considerable decrease in revenue, but Corazza attributed this to the shortened hours and limited occupancy restrictions they’ve put in place by choice to keep customers safe. They have encouraged people to join leagues so they have a good league base in an effort to creatively bump numbers up, while keeping their guests safe.
Over at Merri Bowl Lanes, it’s a menu of classic “bowling alley food” said Richard Glomb, managing partner. “We typically specialize in burgers, pizza and finger foods,” Glomb said.
Their burgers contain a house secret seasoning, their pizza is baked in a brick oven and hand stretched with high quality ingredients and they use a special frying grease for their appetizers. “We get compliments on our crispy fries – they’re crispy on the outside and moist on the inside – never fishy or burnt,” Glomb said.
Fresh salads have also become a mainstay as well in the 34,900-square-foot center. Glomb explained he noticed a decline in the fried foods trend almost a decade ago. He also finds that among the younger crowd they cater to (20 to 35-year-olds), there is more of a call for fresher fare.
Glomb would love to fully renovate his kitchen. However, they’re currently facing the cost of an upgrade and lack of personnel in the market. The kitchen is likely the most demanding part of the business, said Glomb. “The responsibilities, speed and consistency of preparing food is a massive responsibility,” he explained. As well, Glomb noted that surrounding restaurants had been advertising for workers and managers, and still hadn’t opened yet.
Providing excellent food customer service is baked into the culture at their center, said Glomb. “The staff understand the vision of taking care of the Merri Bowl family,” Glomb said.
“Everybody that comes into our facility–whether it’s a birthday party, league or tournament–is thanked for being a part of the Merri Bowl Family.” They get 4,000 guests a week, and are now tracking ahead of pre-pandemic numbers. “It’s a testimony to the loyalty of our guests,” Glomb said.
Molly Bradshaw, owner of the almost 10-year-old Mission Bowling Club in San Francisco, said they focused on high quality technically driven food early on. After about two years, their burger won them national recognition.
“It has a melt-in-your-mouth flavour that’s hard to recreate because it’s not what you can make from home,” said Bradshaw. “Ever since then we were lucky to get a lot of free press.”
Their menu offers a variety of other foods, including fried chicken, French fries and five other dishes that are rotated throughout the year.
They’ve never been stagnant in coming up with creative menus or listening to their customers, said Bradshaw. One change they have made was narrowing what was available on the menu. “We’ve found we can’t be as broad, and must be focused on what we offer because waste is such a killer on profit margins,” Bradshaw said.
They recently purchased some new equipment seeing as they’re approaching their 10-year anniversary. They’ve also added a few new pieces and products: Salamanders to help with melting and adding more diversity in presentation and more house-made and in-house smoked meats. They also added a meat grinder and sausage maker. Sometimes kitchen improvements can be fast and easy, said Bradshaw. There may be minimal or have no electrical work involved, for instance, or it may not be such a struggle to move things in and out.
The best way to ensure your food customer service is top notch is to hire people who reflect who you are and what you expect to see, said Bradshaw. For her, that means hiring really nice people who have plenty of empathy and care about the guest experience.
You have to give your staff the tools they need, too, explained Bradshaw. That includes providing them with the basics like training manuals and follow ups.
When they came back from the pandemic, food service staff had to re-learn a large part of the job: They had to adhere to the city and health requirements and ensure it was obvious to their customer that all due diligence had been done in areas like carrying and presenting food. Guests will recognize these efforts, Bradshaw said.
Mission Bowling Club is a little under 10,000 square feet, with six lanes. Attendance is down, but they also purposely slowed things down by reducing lane capacity to make it less crowded. That said, they reopened in March 2021 and are “growing and feeling good,” Bradshaw said.
Owner of the 12,800-square-foot Presidio Bowl Victor Meyerhoff said their top food sellers are burgers, chicken strips and pizza. “We have several other choices for our guests, but bowling, beer and our top sellers seem to go just together,” explained Meyerhoff. For large parties, their house smoked BBQ spread, taco bars, and burger slider bars are very popular as well.
Three years ago, they did a complete remodel of their kitchen. They wanted to bring the kitchen up to speed with their food and beverage needs.
Presidio Bowl has been operating for over 26 years. Roughly five years ago, they decided they needed to re-think the way they ran they ran their food and beverage operation. “We needed to stop thinking about our kitchen as a necessary evil and embrace the operation,” Meyerhoff said.
They hired a head chef, instead of the food and beverage manager they used in years past. They re-tuned their focus onto food quality and service. “Food prices are not inexpensive, but our quality and service are excellent,” said Meyerhoff. “Our customers are willing to pay more for a better product served by staff that cares about the food they are preparing.”
They’ve also just finished an outdoor patio with some unbelievable views.
Their pandemic closure lasted from March of 2020 to April of 2021. The attendance since their opening has coincided with waves of COVID infections. Meyerhoff told us they’re currently in a dip. “Our thought is that we will see attendance increase above 2019 numbers once COVID becomes endemic,” Meyerhoff concluded.