Feature Article - September 2009
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Sink or Swim

How Waterparks Are Surfing the Economic Waves

By Dawn Klingensmith

Creative Concessions

Don't eat for an hour before swimming? Good thing most people dismiss that time-worn advice as an old wives' tale, because food and beverage sales are a vital part of a waterpark's success.

"It keeps your guests at your facility for a longer period of time, and they, in turn, will perceive your admission price to be more of a value," said Franceen Gonzales, vice president of risk management, Great Wolf Resorts Inc., Madison, Wis.

"Trends are leaning toward value-priced products, mostly due to the downturn in the economy," she said. "Family meals are popular, as well as bundled meal programs where food is included in the admission price."

At Great Wolf Lodge, guests are encouraged to play with their food. A confectionary and ice cream shop has self-serve stations where customers can heap on their own toppings. Great Wolf and other resorts partner with brand-name restaurants such as Pizza Hut and Starbucks.

"Utilizing a branded concept is a great way to offer a quality product that is recognizable to guests," Gonzales said. "And most brands will do the design, setup, training and monitoring of the concession operation."

Some chains demand heavy startup and licensing costs, though, so another option to consider is hiring a consultant that will offer the same design, setup and management services for non-branded concessions, she added.

Fresh fruit and other healthy fare is gaining favor among families. However, "The array of food choices is also important. You may have one person that wants a healthy salad or chicken wrap and fruit, whereas another person wants roasted corn on the cob or even the novelty of a deep-fried Twinkie on a stick," Gonzales said. "Knowing your clientele's preferences is important for success."

If alcoholic beverages are sold, training, pricing and monitoring can keep consumption in check. Gonzales recommends that servers be TIPS-certified. (TIPS stands for Training and Intervention Procedures. See www.gettips.com.) Alcoholic beverages should be priced so guests can enjoy themselves but will be less likely to drink excessively. Obviously, intoxicated people should not be allowed in pools and hot tubs or on rides.

"In some cases, the law requires alcohol consumption to be limited to a contained space like a patio and only allows people over 21 in those spaces," Gonzales said.

Efforts to make concession stands prominent, enticing and convenient means that food products are getting nearer to the water, so food debris is somewhat of a concern.

However, "Selecting the right products and the right packaging can keep debris out of the pool," Gonzales said. "Generally, it has not been a problem as long as guests know that outside food cannot be brought into the park. Operators need to have plenty of garbage and recycling cans so it is easy for guests to dispose of it."