The 18 Insights All-Star Operators Revealed at IAAPA 2019!

The CenterEdge team enjoyed another awe-inspiring week at IAAPA this year. While we filled up on plenty of new and innovative food and beverage options, it was the Food & Beverage Operators Roundtable that satisfied our hunger for insight into what works–and what doesn’t.

Running a successful food and beverage program at an amusement park or FEC is like managing a business within a business. Whether you focus on concessions, a full-service restaurant and bar or something in between, optimizing revenue generators and reducing expenses are key to long-term profitability.

Here are the behind-the-scenes highlights of what approximately 50 food professionals and industry peers say are the secrets to their success.

Revenue Generators

#1. Homemade chicken strips. When one facility started breading their own chicken strips, the cost went down significantly and they were able to raise the price an additional $2 per serving. The change not only didn’t shy guests away, and their sales skyrocketed.

#2. Souvenir products. Souvenir products make up 30% of total food sales at Fun Spot and another facility said souvenir items are second only to admissions when it comes to total revenue. Consider focusing on “kitchen cabinet” items that families will use every day to not only increases desirability but reinforce good brand memories every time guests open their cupboards.

#3. Refill program. Refill programs can reduce waste and boost revenue, especially when combined with a premium souvenir vessel.

#4. Exclusive options. Facilities with multiple food and beverage locations can drive demand and push traffic by offering specialty items (for example a unique burger option) at each location.

Expense Savers

#5. Cross-train everyone. One facility was able to reduce labor costs from 47% to 32% by insisting every team member gets trained on a minimum of five stations. “Even our line cooks know how to work redemption.”

#6. Track your trash. At Sonny’s Place, banquet staff keep waste logs per guest against which management could then par serving size. Another facility recommended, “Every so often, put on some gloves, go out and just empty the trash. You’ll see what people are throwing away. And you’ll show your staff you’re not above doing the work you’re asking them to do.”

#7. Invest in portioning tools and training your team members to use them every time for consistency and cost control. Because one team member’s “handful” could be double that of another.

#8. Rocket whipped cream & pelleted cheese. Premium products designed for consistency may cost more per ounce or per pound but the ability to portion consistently and reduce waste result in significant cost savings. One facility manager realized 30% reduction in cheese costs simply by switching to the slightly more expensive pelleted cheese.

#9. Creatively repurpose inventory. When one facility had leftover popcorn buckets in the shape of a sandcastle, they sold giant, Instagram-able sandcastle sundaes that not only tackled the inventory issue, but generated revenue and guest excitement, too!

#10. Use software to maximize effectiveness. Use your POS to pre-program smart souvenir and refill deals, or to incentivize sales competitions for front-line staff. Flexible, responsive staff scheduling is also critical to reducing expenses.

#11. Test, test, test. Test new products as seasonal or cabana specials before adding them to the permanent menu, and test possible new food & beverage locations with pop-up shops first.

Productivity & Efficiency

#12. Stay ahead with floating. Train short order cooks to “float” food during the rushes. Floating is essentially cooking a few items ahead to keep up with capacity rather than pre-cooking and having food sit.

#13. Provide picture books. A picture is worth 1,000 words. Give your line cooks photographic menu guides so they can match expectations consistently.

#14. Consider under-counter coolers. When designing your kitchen with your architect, seriously consider under-counter coolers. Reducing the number of steps your team has to take increases both employee efficiency and throughput.

#15. Fine tune with forecasting. Evaluate historical data to determine peak times, seasonal product popularity, etc. and then plan ahead.


#16. Adding alcohol. As long as it’s consistent with your brand personality, adding liquor to your beverage options can boost everyday sales and opens up a whole host of additional special event possibilities (happy hour, late night, etc.). According to one manager, “Introducing beer and wine sales resulted in a 10% increase in sales.”

#17. Stock photos are no-nos. People eat with their eyes first. More facilities are investing in high quality photography of actual food items–and are seeing valuable returns.

#18. Instagram-able menu items. Make your food & beverage an attraction, too! Promote ridiculously premium product at a premium price and create social media (and media) buzz. Super successful Instagram-able (and profitable) products from leading facilities include:

  • Trash Can Nachos ($18) – Nacho ingredients layers on an actual 10-inch trash can lid.
  • Mother of all Bloody Marys, aka MOAB ($22) – Bloody Mary with an entire meal of apps on top.

IAAPA 2019 was full of insights and innovation to help FEC or amusement park operators run a successful (and fun!) business. Learn more about how CenterEdge makes it easy to integrate food & beverage operations with POS, inventory control and other critical systems. 

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