As we all know, over the past five years our operational needs and the expectations of our guests have evolved. This includes what they want to eat and drink, and how those options are presented to them. While food and beverage offerings aren’t a core focus for many aerial adventure operators, when done right they can be a profitable venture that guests appreciate. Even if your menu is very limited, there are still ways to revitalize your food and beverage operations without sacrificing quality, increasing your costs internally, or raising prices significantly.
With the help of Michael Holtzman, president and CEO of Profitable Food Facilities, we present the following secrets to successful F&B operations, from basic ideas that apply to all operations to more specialized concepts aimed at larger facilities later in the list.
1. Location, Location, Location
Think about your guests’ entire experience of when and where they will want to eat. Would you want to eat a BBQ sandwich before you get on a zip line? Probably not. But they might opt for a snack or energy bar. So locate your food offerings where guests will want them. That means, for example, energy snacks on the way to the registration desk, and post-activity food in an area where guests will be after their tour. By taking into consideration where you offer food and beverages, you can significantly influence guests’ buying patterns. Also, many operations are able to offer a dining experience in an unforgettable location—capitalize on that.
2. Smell Marketing
Whether you’re grilling outside or making fresh treats like kettle corn, smell marketing works wonders for the guests’ experience and your bottom line. If you’ve ever been at the fair and have smelled fresh treats being made, you know what we’re talking about.
3. Don’t Serve Bottled Sodas
Soda distributors make more money on bottled soft drinks, so they’ll try to sell you those first. But canned and bottled sodas take up too much space and are too expensive wholesale. A better choice for your bottom line is to serve fountain drinks. The cost for a 16 oz. soft drink is right around $0.38, which gives you a much better profit margin.
4. Cost Out All of Your Menus
You need to know how much it costs to make or buy each item on each menu. Our goal is to always have the cost of our menu items be about 25 percent of the retail price. That is, the item on the menu is priced at four times our cost—if a single item costs us $1.50, we price it at $6.00.
5. Taste and Rate Each Menu Item on a Scale of 1 – 10, and Be Honest
Here are our three factors for adding or removing a menu item:
1) Does it taste good?
2) Does it make money?
3) Is it executable?
If it doesn’t taste good and the quality is low, you shouldn’t serve it. If the cost to make or buy the item is high (i.e., the cost of goods is 40+ percent of the sale price), you have to sell too many to cover the cost of labor and goods. And finally, if it takes too long to produce and it holds up the line when you’re busy, it kills throughput.
6. Different Menu Items for Different Times of the Day
What a guest will order from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. is different from what they’ll order from 2 p.m. – 5 p.m. Offer a traditional “meal menu” for lunch along with a snack and/or treat menu. Keep in mind that most guests aren’t dining at your park for a “healthy food” experience. Offering items such as kettle corn or a signature milkshake will boost sales and appeal to their appetite.
7. Branding + Signature Items = Increased Profits
Every moment guests spend at your operation builds the memory of their experience, and F&B can contribute to that. Branding each concept (a BBQ or taco stand, for example) and serving a unique signature item they can’t get anywhere else (i.e., a funnel cake in the shape of Texas) will boost your sales. Or offer something local, like Natural Bridge Caverns in San Antonio, Texas, does with Texas’ own Blue Bell Ice Cream served in handmade waffle cones. Not only are you providing something special and tasty, it is also a marketing tool that can land you on guests’ social media.
8. Make Your Own Products
With the right recipe and staff training, your operation can enter the made-from-scratch food business. There are items that you can easily make in house that will boost the quality of your product served and can lower your cost at the same time. For example, chicken tenders. We have a (not so secret) tender batter recipe that we recommend for a great tasting tender that guests of all ages love. We’ve done hundreds of taste tests, and fresh beats frozen every time.
9. Offer an Upscale Item on Your Menu
One upscale menu item will increase the perceived value of your overall offerings. We often recommend our higher-volume clients feature a salmon sandwich, for example. By having an “expensive” item on the menu, it makes the guest think, “Wow, they serve salmon! The food must be really good here. I’ll have a burger and it’s going to be great!” You likely won’t sell a lot of salmon sandwiches, and that’s OK—the food cost on them isn’t that great, anyway. But you will serve a lot of burgers.
10. Have Pictures of Your Food on Your Menu Boards
After costing out your menu and deciding what to offer, make your highest-volume items stand out by putting their pictures on display. This will drive guest buying patterns in the direction you desire.
11. Menu Drives Design
The items on a menu determine the layout of your kitchen and the specific equipment in the kitchen, i.e., a pizza concept should be designed differently than a taco stand. The way your kitchen is laid out impacts the throughput of your operation. After having designed 400-plus captive market kitchens, the results we see when we remodel an existing kitchen are astounding. We have been able to completely transform the experience, eliminating once-long wait times so that the food flies out faster than ever before. Kitchen design is one of the most important pieces to your operational success.
Serving tasty, quality food that guests get excited about—whether a simple treat or a full meal—will benefit your bottom line and enhance your overall guest experience.