Feature Article - April 2004
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Concession Obsession

Learn to maximize your menu, save money and make even more

By Elisa Kronish

Revenue-revving routines

Proper menu pricing is an important component of a successful concession, but it's a tricky balance between bringing in dollars without scaring off your customers.

"Make sure the price points fall into fair market price for your venue," Wilkinson says. "Go to the point where it's as much as you can get without upsetting people to the point they won't buy at all."

That's the trick.

"This is an inside-the-four-walls captive audience, similar to a movie theater," Holtzman points out. At the movie theater, it seems acceptable to pay $4 for a soda, while at your neighborhood convenience store, you wouldn't stand for it. "But 7-Eleven is not your competitor," Holtzman adds, meaning that you don't have to price your product that low. "Choose pricing in the middle of the road," he says.

At the Wave Waterpark, Handler learned from working with the consultant that your cost for a menu item should be about 30 percent of what you're selling it for.

"Let's say a meal deal total cost [to us] is $1.50," Handler explains. "We were selling it at $3. We should have been charging $4.50." The consultant told him, simply, "You're charging too low or you need to find a way to decrease cost," Handler says.

No matter what your pricing, it makes sense to push the items with the highest profit margin, Wilkinson says. In general, soda sales offer high profitability. Selling brand-name soda already attracts customers. Selling it from a fountain machine rather than bottles offers even higher earning potential.

"If you have both [fountain and bottles], you'll sell 50 percent of both," Holtzman says. "But if you only have fountain, you'll sell all fountain drinks, and it's much cheaper." Plus, it saves valuable inventory space, he adds.

Holtzman also suggests a clever marketing tactic when creating your menu: Include a menu item that out-prices other options, in turn making those other choices appear like a great deal.

"So when you have a $6.75 fish sandwich on your menu, the $3.50 hamburger starts looking really good," Holtzman says. "Maybe you'll sell a case of fish all season, but it's a marketing ploy to sell other products."

Another quick tip: "Don't sell anything under $1," Holtzman advises. "You don't need to give anything away."

Even the best-conceived menu won't stand a chance if you can't get customers through the line quickly. Sometimes the system hits a snag when employees get tired or lazy.

"Put some pressure on your staff to move faster," Holtzman says. Good old-fashioned bribery can often do the trick. "Watch register A and register B and see who's processing faster. Make it a contest to see who can ring the most orders faster—and then, watch them ring," he says. Reward the faster of the two with some sort of bonus, maybe $5 or free tickets to another facility.

Problems can also arise when employees are unsupervised and inexperienced.

"Make sure you make your presence known often and unexpectedly," Delaney suggests. "The hardest part with employees is not letting them give away food to their friends or themselves," she adds. Besides serving as a check on your employees' actions, your regular appearances send the message that you care about the concession, how it's running and if the employees need anything.

"When it's really busy, we'll go in and assist them," Delaney says.

If certain processes are slowing down your employees, find out what they are and try to fix them.

"Listen to your staff and find out what problems they're having," Holtzman says. A common problem is long lines. When the heat is on, and you've got impatient, hungry customers, hand out menus to people as they wait or even take orders in line. Either way, when the customers get to the register, the cashiers don't have to wait for an order. They just have to look at the ticket and ring in the order.

"And the customer doesn't have to remember what he wanted," Holtzman adds.

At the Wave Waterpark, Handler recalls that his grill would suffer huge backups.

"People used to wait up to an hour for a chicken sandwich at the barbecue," he says. "So, we had a mob of people wanting their chicken and their money back." Now, on busy days, the grill chefs have about 10 chicken sandwiches ready to go, so no one has to wait very long.