Cut through the chaos and follow these best practices to make birthday party prep and check-in a breeze at your family entertainment center.

In working with various entertainment facilities over the years, there are often two distinct philosophies about birthday parties that surface. Some venues view them as “the best part of the week,” while others refer to them as “a necessary evil.”

In my experience, there is a direct link between the level of unwanted chaos during parties and how stressed one feels about them. If it takes ten seconds or less to make a first impression, how you handle your party before and during check-in can make or break your reputation in a parent’s mind. To reduce the risk of negative experiences, here are a few tips for keeping both the guest and your team members happy:

1. Be Clear About Expectations

A lot of conflict during a party (and in life, really) arises due to a lack of clear expectations. It cannot be stressed enough that in order to make your check-in process flawless, you must set expectations clearly and often. During your sales call, or a confirmation call if your guest booked online, be sure to give party parents all the information they’ll need for a painless party. This includes date and day of week, start and end time, schedule of events, food selections and any other small detail items.

The type of language that you use during that conversation is critical. For example, to run your party program efficiently, your schedule should be fixed and guests must be encouraged to arrive on time. However, guests usually aren’t thinking about your schedule. People often think that their party begins the moment they arrive. Be sure to explain your processes from your guests’ perspective. If their party is scheduled to start at 11AM, advise them to arrive up to fifteen minutes early so that they have ample time to get checked in and ready. Explain that arriving early means they won’t cut in to any of their activity time.

A word of caution: sticking to exact times helps to keep everyone on the same page, but your park must also be in position to deliver on the expectations you set. Your team will need to adhere to the same strict schedules as the party attendees.

2. Use E-vites to Create an Accurate Guest List

If your facility uses waivers, this should be a no-brainer. Using your software’s e-vites allows you to have guest names and RSVPs, and it also gives you an opportunity to process waivers quickly upon guests’ arrival at your facility.

It can definitely be a challenge to get e-vite responses, but one easy way to overcome this is to review the guest list with the parent in your party prep call a few days before their party. Even if your facility doesn’t use waivers, this prep work can help you know when you’ve reached the included number of party guests and easily add additional guests to the final invoice.

3. Use an FAQ List

Are you tired of guests asking the same questions before every party? Create a handout addressing the most commonly asked party questions and send it out to party parents as part of your confirmation email. Remember that people often need to hear information multiple times, so try to address those same issues in your confirmation and party prep calls as well. You’ll inspire confidence that you know what you’re doing and party parents will be more willing to allow you to take the lead when they arrive on site if you’ve anticipated and addressed their concerns ahead of time.

4. Leave No Question Unasked

Just like anticipating concerns guests may have in advance of their event, be prepared with your own set of questions to ensure the event goes smoothly. Be sure to ask how many adults will be attending a child’s party, what food needs might be, how they’d like to handle food for the adults and siblings of guests and other anticipatory topics. Not only will this tactic help increase upsells, but it will also help party parents manage a stressful time, which will enhance their experience and their overall view of your program and your park.

5. Be Ready for Showtime

Have you ever arrived at a friend’s house for a party only to find the host looking harried and running around trying to put the finishing touches on appetizers? Don’t be like that.

Be ready for every party by stationing your hosts at the front door waiting with welcome signs with the party child’s name on them. One fun idea for these signs is to create a handheld “Marissa’s Party This Way” sign that your host can carry overhead while moving the party through the facility. This allows party guests to find the party easily, plus it shows other facility guests how fun (and well-managed) your parties are. Think of it as free advertising.

When party parents arrive, engage them immediately to take charge of the party, help them with packages and start laying out their party schedule again. Use arrival time to confirm last minute details such as food they’ve ordered and attractions they’ve scheduled. And don’t forget about the guest of honor! Make sure he’s feeling like the star of the show by asking him how excited he is for his party and what he’s looking forward to. This introduction time is a chance to get to know him, make him feel special and find out tidbits to use in a potential birthday trivia game during a transition. Remember, it’s a party. Make it fun!

Following these tactics will help to improve and de-stress your party program. But what about others? Do you have any tried and true party tricks you swear by? Tell us in the comments or connect with us on Twitter.

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