Park Spy— Spring Summer 2017



People need food and hydration to stay energized and happy. As a park operator, this is something to keep in mind. You don’t need a restaurant on-site, nor is it a requirement that you sell snacks and drinks (although it helps), but you do need to be prepared to point people in the direction of sustenance. If your operation is miles away from the nearest restaurant and you don’t sell food or drinks, let guests know in advance so they can be prepared. Most of the parks we called handled this question well. And some, of course, didn’t.

Have a question we should ask for Park Spy? Send your question to Sarah Ebbott ([email protected]) and if we use it, you’re immune for that issue!


Park #1, FL

First contact: Female.
API: Stated question.
Staff: Sounds like a great excuse for a picnic! We offer a variety of snacks, but unfortunately no prepared or hot foods. That being said, you are more than welcome to bring in a cooler and enjoy a picnic while you are here.
API: Are there areas for us to set up and hang out while the kids are doing the course?
Staff: Absolutely. We have plenty of space for you to put out a blanket and relax as a group, or if you have anyone who isn’t interested in climbing, they can enjoy the scenery and watch the rest of the group from the ground.
API: Sounds great!
Staff: Great, did you have any other questions?
API: No, that answers my question. Thanks.
Staff: Great, well if you have any other questions, please feel free to give us a call back or visit our website!

Score: 8
Comment: Upbeat, friendly, and provided options for how we can stay fed.


Park #2, MN

First contact: Male.
API: Stated question.
Staff: Well, we don’t serve food here. We have some snacks available in the store, though.
API: What if we brought our own picnic? Is there some place we could all sit down and eat together?
Staff: Oh yeah! We have a small picnic area and you and your group can hang out there and have some food, we just don’t serve any. Oh, and we have grills you can use too, if you want to bring hot dogs or hamburgers or whatever.
API: Grills? That’s great, maybe that’s what we’ll do.
Staff: Cool, when are you planning to come?
API: We’re still trying to decide on a day.
Staff: Cool. Well, give us a call back and we can get you booked for a tour.
API: Will do!

Score: 6
Comment: I love the grill idea, bonus points for that. Minus points because it sounded as if he forgot what the park offered.


Park #3, AL

First contact: Male.
API: Stated question.
Staff: Well, we don’t sell any food on site, but we’d be happy to make recommendations to local restaurants in the area depending on what type of food you’re looking for or the size of your party.
API: That sounds great. If we were to bring our own picnic, would there be a place for us to hang out and enjoy that?
Staff: Unfortunately, because of our location, we have limited space for guests to really stretch out an enjoy a picnic. However, you are more than welcome to bring some snacks or drinks with you and then, as I said, we could certainly provide recommendations for area restaurants or places to go if picnicking is more your thing.
API: Thanks so much.
Staff: Have a great day.

Score: 8
Comments: “No” is a perfectly acceptable answer, just back it up with something positive or some alternative options like this guy did.


Park #4, NC

First contact: Male.
API: Stated question.
Staff: Well, I’m sorry to say we don’t serve food here.
API: That’s no problem. Is there a picnic area we can all hang out and eat if we brought our own food and snacks?
Staff: Not really, uh, I mean you can put a blanket down outside the welcome center or sit on the grass, but we don’t really have picnic tables. I also need to ask my manager if we allow outside food.
Staff: I’ll just put you on hold for one minute while I find that out.
(I was not put on hold, but instead it sounded like he covered the phone receiver with his hand.)
Staff: (muffled talking) They’re coming to zip, do we allow outside food?
Manager: You mean they want to bring food on the zip line? Because that wouldn’t be OK.
Staff: OK, I’ll tell them. (removes hand from receiver) So I am sorry, but we don’t allow food on the zip line tour.
API: Well, I wasn’t asking about bringing food on the tour. I was thinking more of a picnic lunch after the tour.
Staff: Oh, OK, let me check on that. (muffles receiver again and re-poses question to manager)
Manager: I guess that’s OK. We don’t really have a rule about it, they just have to clean up after themselves.
Staff: (removes hand from receiver) OK, so a picnic lunch would be fine. You would just have to be sure to clean up after yourselves.
API: Ok, sounds like a plan.
Staff: OK, great, bye!

Score: 4
Comment: Mini-kudos for asking when you didn’t have the answer to the question. However, the “hold” button on a phone is a great thing. Please use it.


Park #5, TX

First contact: Female.
API: Stated question.
Staff: We have a café, which sells, like, hot dogs and nachos and hamburgers and things like that. And then we have another shop that sells sweets, ice cream, and cookies and things like that. All of the sit-down restaurants nearby us are in a town about eight miles down the road.
API: OK. We have a couple kids with some dietary restrictions, would it be OK if we brought some food in?
Staff: Yes, of course, it would just not be allowed inside the attractions.
API: Great, is there a place we can all sit down and eat together?
Staff: Yes, there are picnic tables all throughout the property and at our visitors’ center.
API: Great, thanks so much.
Staff: You have a good day now.

Score: 8
Comment: Friendly and concise. It’s nice to have options, too. Though my imaginary kids are going to have a sugar high after we visit this place.


Park #6, AZ

First contact: Female.
API: Stated question.
Staff: We do have a great restaurant here. We serve burgers, delicious brick oven pizzas, sandwiches, salads. We use a lot of local ingredients and have our own garden as well. We have a lot of really delicious options you can pick from. My favorite is the pizza, though. The kitchen makes the dough from scratch and cooks it in a brick oven.
API: Excellent, we have a couple kids in our group who have dietary restrictions. Do you know if the kitchen can accommodate those?
Staff: Certainly, if you give us a heads up the kitchen can certainly accommodate most needs: gluten free, vegetarian, whatever you guys like. Just let us know in advance and we can make arrangements for you.
API: And if we decided to pack our own food, would that be OK?
Staff: Of course, a lot of people pack a picnic and lay out on the grass after their zip tour to eat. So you are more than welcome to do that as well.
API: Great, thanks so much.
Staff: You’re welcome.

Score: 9
Comment: After talking to this girl, I am craving one of those brick oven pizzas. Beyond that, she thoroughly explained how they can accommodate my group.


Park #7, NY

First contact: Female.
API: Stated question.
Staff: We have a café on site that does breakfast and lunch. (YAWN) Excuse me. For lunch we do sandwiches, salads, we do paninis, and then we do, like, basic stuff, too. Hot dogs, chicken tenders, French fries, all that stuff.
API: Great. Do you know if the café offers anything for people with dietary restrictions?
Staff: We do always try to make sure we have at least one gluten free and vegetarian option on the menu.
API: Excellent. Alternatively, if we were to bring our own lunches would that be OK?
Staff: Certainly. We don’t allow outside food inside our dining room, but we do have outdoor seating available if you want to do that. (YAWN)
API: Thank you so much.
Staff: You’re welcome, no problem.

Score: 6
Comment: Thanks for the good information, but did you have to make me feel like I was putting you to sleep?


Park #8, IL


Score: 0
Comment: I called this park five times. The phone would ring for more than two minutes and then disconnect. Always, always have at least an answering machine if you do not have the staff to answer the phone.
Park #9, VA

First contact: Female.
API: Stated question.
Staff: We have a bunch of great options for you. The snack bar serves some tasty snacks on the patio during most operating hours. We also offer snacks and drinks in the store if you’re just looking for a little pick-me-up. We’re also very close to the boardwalk with a ton of great local restaurants.
API: That’s great.
Staff: Were you planning to come in the next couple of weeks?
API: Yes, the kids have a mini spring break so we wanted to do something fun, but we have a couple dietary restrictions so we always have to check.
Staff: Of course! Completely understand that. I ask because we are running a promotion through the end of next month, climb with us and then bring your climbing tag to one of the four participating restaurants to get a discount. I can’t speak to their menus and any dietary restrictions, but I am sure you can find the information you’re looking for on their websites. The full list of participating restaurants is on our website, so you can spend the day with us and then enjoy a nice local meal as well.
API: That sounds great, I’ll check it out.
Staff: Any other questions I can answer for you?
API: That’s it for the moment.
Staff: Great. Well, be sure to call back or check out our website if you come up with any others, and we hope to see you soon!

Score: 10
Comment: Very friendly and informative. Plus, on-site snacks and partnerships with local restaurants? They must read Adventure Park Insider. Well done!
Identity revealed: The Adventure Park at Virginia Aquarium


Park #10, TN

First contact: Male.
API: Stated question.
Staff: Well, uh, right now all we have are, uh, snacks and stuff. The barbecue shack doesn’t open until after Memorial Day.
API: No problem. We’re planning in advance because we have a couple of families and are trying to get an idea of options because some of the kids have dietary restrictions.
Staff: Uh, well, the Bar-b-que shack serves like, sandwiches, brats, uh, ice cream, and side dishes and stuff.
API: Do you know if it offers anything gluten free?
Staff: I’m not sure.
API: OK, would it be ok if we brought our own food? Would there be a place we could all eat together?
Staff: Sure. (Silence…)
API: OK, then, thanks so much.

Score: 2
Comment: Getting an answer shouldn’t be like pulling teeth. This was.



Food is one of those extras that not every operator can offer, and it’s not something you need to have. What you do need to have is options: food on site, a place for guests to go and eat their own food (bonus points to the park offering grills), or recommendations for other options. I would like to specifically call out Park #9, The Adventure Park at Virginia Aquarium. First, the girl answering the phone was friendly, accurate, and informative, which are primary considerations when scoring Spy missions. But in addition, the park is taking advantage of an opportunity by partnering with local restaurants. Creating relationships with restaurants, or any local business, is great for marketing, great for establishing strong ties to the community, and gives you an opportunity to enhance the experience for your guests without dropping cash into infrastructure. Thumbs up.


About Author

Sarah Borodaeff is the former research editor for Adventure Park Insider magazine and current freelance contributor. A professional ski bum and former zip guide, Sarah enjoys any excuse to talk about outdoor adventures.

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