Among the various secondary spend opportunities parks can offer their guests, F&B is top of the list as it’s pretty much guaranteed that, at some point during their visit, every guest will purchase a drink or a food item of some kind.

Food and beverage sales are key to any amusement, theme and waterparks. But in addition to bringing in vital revenue, F&B offerings are also a key part of a visit, as guests will always want to eat and drink during their day out and will expect to find a good choice and quality of fare.

While F&B comes top of the pile as far as secondary spend revenues are concerned, in these days of greater guest expectations, it’s no good just serving up the traditional burgers and fries, average coffee and ice cream. Today’s discerning guests want more than that. But parks around the world clearly recognise this fact and are catering to as wide a range of ages, tastes and requirements as they possibly can.

It is a message that comes across loud and clear from our interviewees, including Ken Whiting of Whiting’s Good Concessions at Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk in the US, an expert in the F&B sector.

“For sure the expectations of parks guests have risen,” he notes. “There is a higher focus on quality, variety and value.  Parks attempt to achieve that under the realities of their operating schedule, staff abilities and facility limitations.

“The other area that drives what guests are looking for is simply driven by understanding the park’s visitors. Are they a multi-day hotel visitor, a regional day visitor with an in park long length of stay, or a local visitor or season pass holder who is very familiar with the area and has a short length of stay. Each of those groups has different wants, needs and expectations to be filled.”

Whiting’s F&B outlets are of the typical quick serve format featuring core menu items of burgers, chicken, pizza and hot dogs. Additionally, the organisation operates many carts and kiosks that feature snacks, desserts and beverages such as funnel cakes, popcorn, churros, pretzels, beverages, ice cream and Dippin Dots.

“The locations that we operate are influenced by both our customers and our capabilities,” Whiting says. “We pay close attention to what our guests are asking for and how they are currently purchasing, and make menu adjustments based on that.  Knowing that quality and speed are highly valued, we need to acknowledge some limitations that our facilities and seasonal operating schedule create.”

These days it would be fair to assume that healthy options would be an important consideration, but according to Whiting it’s not necessarily the case.

“In large part, park guests seem to use their visit to an amusement park as a reason to be somewhat adventurous in their dining… and leave their diet at home,” he says. “However, in many venues there is some sales growth in what can be termed healthy options – and again it comes from knowing your visitors. Those that are on an extended vacation and staying in hotels may be looking for some healthier choices during their park visit.  Smaller parks serving a local market, not so much.”

And he notes that selling items that are unique has definite benefits.

“Those are the best menu items to sell! Menu items that are unique and are not readily available away from the park, can add to the overall experience of the guest visit. Many parks have their ‘signature’ items that they are known for and these menu items can be as sought after as a ride on the roller coaster! They can typically deliver higher profit margins, as there are no retail price comparisons to be done.

“Some of the menu items that we sell that fall into this category include funnel cakes, deep fried Twinkies, fresh made churros, fresh baked waffle cones, self-serve slush, cotton candy, garlic fries, chocolate dipped ice cream, kettle corn and others.”

As far as trends are concerned, Whiting comments: “As already noted, an increase in expectations, quality and value. In some cases, guests are looking for those healthier options. One of the bigger trends may be towards allergen and gluten free menu items. Many parks are responding to this trend by making options available for their guests.

“There is also more display cooking being done. That can be accomplished by having an outdoor BBQ to prepare burgers, or by making kitchens more visible. This type of approach does help to drive impulse sales, drive retail price points and margin and creates the perception of healthier, fresh menu choices.

“Lastly there is a growing integration with souvenir containers and food. Both hot and cold beverages, popcorn, cotton candy and kids’ meals are often available with a souvenir packaging component.”

And how does Whiting feel the F&B offer impacts on the overall enjoyment of a visit?

“Whether it’s enjoying a meal or indulging on snacks and desserts, the food offerings can greatly enhance the overall visitor experience. From being rested, re-energised and re-fuelled in a comfortable dinning environment, to enjoying the uniqueness of a Funnel Cake, food is definitely a part of the memory being made.”

At Movie Park Germany, in Bottrop, director of food and beverage Jörg Pannenberg explains that the park has a lot of different types of F&B outlets which are all themed to the area in which they are located, from the exterior view as well as from the interior and the food on offer itself.

“For example we have Europe’s largest Nickland, an area themed with famous Nickelodeon characters like SpongeBob,” he says. “In the TV series there is the restaurant ‘Krusty Krab’ and we also have that in our park and of course you can get here the famous ‘Krab-Burger.’ In general, our outlets are focused on American food, since that is the general style of our park. All in all, we have 25 outlets. Since we have a lot of families in our park we´re also serving family-offers like a family-pizza.”

And he notes that guests are looking for both a higher quality offering as well as fast food offerings.

“Our guests are looking for both. Fast food does not exclude a high quality product. We´re serving food with high-quality standards but are also aware of the fact that our guests do not want to wait a long time for their meals. It has to go fast since they want to enjoy the day on roller coasters. We’re using A-Brands, guaranteeing a high quality product, from burgers to pasta.”

And he continues: “There is a slight increase in the demand for healthy food but the overall percentage is still very low. We´re offering salad buffets, fresh fruits, vegetarian meals and so on. But during a day in an amusement park most of our guests are not counting calories, they simply want to enjoy the day. And a classic burger can also be part of that.”

As far as ‘unique’ or slightly different options are concerned, Pannenberg states that Movie Park provides homemade sausages, for example, like a cheese and bacon sausage or a Halloween Griller with garlic. Additionally, American chili fries (with spicy bolognese and cheese) and corn dogs are also available.

“That matches our general American focus of our park,” he explains. “We also have a lot of ‘Make it your way’ options, like ice cream or pizza where you can choose your favourite toppings. Of course we´re also offering vegetarian meals as an option.”

Pannenberg does not pick out any particular trends in the market at present but he adds: “We see that more and more people like to buy a food and entrance package. Also, with our All-Inclusive option, a ‘carefree-package’ if you want. They like to have the opportunity to choose between the whole variety of our F&B offering.”

And what about the F&B offer impacting on the overall enjoyment of a visit?

“It´s an important part of the overall enjoyment. A high-quality food product completes the amazing experience in our park,” Pannenberg concludes.

At Calaway Park in Calgary, Canada, restaurants and games manager Angie Silljer reveals that the park has “something for everyone and every taste bud!”

“Currently we operate 23 food locations at Calaway Park,” she says. “There are five main restaurants and 18 concession stands to choose from. We choose food items that are classic yet unique, that a guest won’t necessarily purchase outside the park.”

Calaway’s locations include concessions where guests can get a range of snacks from mini doughnuts and corn dogs to soft ice cream and mini melts, while the Calaway Café is the park’s main cafeteria style restaurant. Other outlets include the Burger Hut and Burger Bistro, Dockside Diner and Sweet Toothe, along with a range of food carts and the BBQ Choo Choo.

“We look at selling items that allow us to be the most efficient with a guest’s time,” says Silljer. “We streamline our menus so guests don’t have to read a lot of menu items to make their decision. We give guests a few choices that are popular, therefore allowing guests to make decisions easier.”

“Guests want a good product for a reasonable price. I think our guests understand that fast food is still a popular option and will continue to purchase from the fast food stands. They are not looking to have the sit-down restaurant experience necessarily. They’ve got a lot to do at the park and want to get it all done in a day!

“Providing healthier options is always something we consider at the park,” she continues. “When we survey our guests, we hear more and more that they want us to include healthy options. Therefore, we have expanded our healthier fare over the years. In saying that, however, we find that the healthier food items offered are still not as popular as our concession or fast food type items. Once the guest is actually out at the park and enjoying their day, the majority of money spent is still on our fast food and concessions areas.

And she notes that the park does sell unique items and some that can’t be bought elsewhere.

“Calaway Park sells a souvenir fountain pop cup that is unique to our own park with our own design on it. Mini melts is also one of those unique items that you don’t find at your local grocery store. We also offer a ‘flash your pass’ promotion to our season pass holders which entitles them to 10 per cent off their purchase at select venues.

“Guests want value in everything!” says Silljer. “Providing any sort of deal will entice guests (especially our season pass holders) to spend more on food and beverage than they normally do. We created a pizza deal promotion that guests can add on when purchasing their admission tickets on-line. Over the last few seasons, we’ve seen an increase in sales for this particular promotion.

“I think food and beverage is an integral part of a guest’s experience at the park. If a guest has to wait in a food line up or ends up with less than satisfactory service or product, they won’t be impressed. It takes away from enjoying their worry-free day. And some guests, once at the park, may purchase a unique and fun food item that they otherwise wouldn’t because they are immersed in a fun and unique atmosphere.”

Back in the US, at Holiday World and Splashin’ Safari in Indiana, Jason Martin, director of food and beverage, reveals that the venue has a couple of “flagship” locations which include indoor dining, one of which features a full-fledged Thanksgiving dinner with all the trimmings. It also has several lunch and snack locations as well as carts and kiosks. There are also eight Pepsi Oasis buildings where guests can help themselves to Free Unlimited Soft Drinks all day long.

“One of the influencing factors that determines what type of outlet we place where is the theming of the area in which it is built,” he says. “All of our outlets are named according to the holiday area of the park they are in. For example, Goblin Burgers is in the Halloween section and Santa’s Snacks is in the Christmas section.

“Our pizza is very popular. It is so popular that we have three restaurants on park dedicated to that menu item. Our guests are looking for good quality food but also love our reasonable prices. They want their dining experience to be quick so they can get back into the park and enjoy the attractions.”

And he agrees healthy options are required.

“Healthy options are indeed growing in popularity,” says Martin. “With last year’s addition of the new Wildebeestro restaurant (named after the nearby Wildebeest water coaster) we added several healthier menu options to the park, including fresh fruits, salads and freshly made wraps. These items and the location were both very popular.”

And what options does he feel are unique to the park?

“One of our most popular unique menu items is our blue ice cream from the Udderly Blue Ice Cream stand. Another is the red, white and blueberry funnel cake at the Funnel Cake Factory. In Mrs. Klaus’ Kitchen, we created Mayflower Fudge and Thunderbird Fudge in honor of our 2014 and 2015 ride additions. We love providing unique food items that enhance the guest experience. We have the staples such as funnel cakes, hot dogs, cotton candy and popcorn but also have pork wings, fried Oreos, the ‘Hot Diggity Dog’ which is a bacon-wrapped, deep fried hot dog topped with cheese and barbecue sauce served on a pretzel bun, giant turkey legs, Thanksgiving dinner served all season, and more.”

The trends Martin notes in the industry include streamlining menus and doing more with less.

“Our guests are in a hurry. We live in a fast-paced society, so keeping things simple for the guests is important. Allergen-friendly menu items and healthier options are also gaining momentum as they have for the past several years.”

And how does he feel the F&B offer impacts on the overall enjoyment of a visit to a park?

“I tell our rookies each year that every guest will enjoy a free soft drink or a snack or a meal when they visit, even though not every guest will ride an attraction,” he says. “For this reason I think the F&B offer has a tremendous impact on the overall enjoyment of the park. From the cleanliness of the facilities and the friendliness of the staff to the quality of the product and the perceived value – it all comes into play when the guest thinks back about their visit to the park. We take that very seriously.”