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June 16, 2020
Theme Park Foodservice 2020…The Twists and Turns of a Necessary Reality
Theme Park Foodservice 2020…The Twists and Turns of a Necessary Reality

We all need a little magic these days.  Or maybe some wizardry.  Summer is here and we long for the sheer abandon and super-sized thrills that theme and amusement parks create for us.  And, in turn, the parks are counting on us to gather our families and head through their gates for a dream-come-true fantastical vacation filled with entrancement and excitement.  But wait…will our experience be the same as before?  Are Mickey and Cinderella hanging around the Magic Kingdom ready to give you a hug or a high five?  Will Hagrid’s Magical Creature’s Motorbike take you on an adventure?  Will we be able to eat with our favorite character?  Or enjoy fireworks that light up the sky?  Can we take a trip around the world, sampling the many delicious cuisines along the way?  Specifically, what changes should you expect as it relates to foodservice?

“According to IAAPA’s 2019 Global Theme and Amusement Park Outlook, approximately 25 – 30 % of amusement park revenue is generated from food, merchandise and other spending by patrons at the park.  So, it is incredibly important to take a good hard look at the park foodservice picture in 2019, and paint a new and evolving vision for 2020, keeping in mind that this kind of revenue generation is necessary,” explains Dick Eisenbarth, President and COO of Cini•Little.

The simple truth is that the dining experience will be quite different.  Every foodservice outlet within the park may not be open, and if they are, there is a very good chance that the menu offerings will be limited.  Safety will play a key role.  And cashless systems will dominate.

Plan Ahead but Embrace Flexibility

Be prepared for the fact that almost everything will be accessed by a reservation system.  From rides to restaurants, social distancing efforts will be in place.  That adorable restaurant you had your heart set on may be closed, in fact, some parks are forgoing full-service restaurants and putting their efforts into opening core facilities only.  Other parks have closed indoor seating and instead, are creating a new seating capacity approach with more spacious outdoor areas in accordance with social distancing requirements.  And still others are removing stools and seating in their bars.  The main theme is to feed people safely and efficiently, and with minimal human contact.

Your Phone IS Your Best Friend

Mobile apps…. this is key to making your experience a good one.  From online reservations to mobile ordering and even paying for your meals, your phone is an extension of yourself…even more so than before.  Park operators have long recognized that mobile ordering and cashless payments reduce the need for cashier labor, but this is even more important when it comes to keeping people safe.    A virtual queuing system takes the place of on-site food pick-up lines where there are many people in close proximity.  Instead, an alert system allows patrons to come to the food outlet when they know their food is ready for pick-up.  Cash handling will be minimized with cashless payment systems.  Not every outlet will accept cash and where they do, expect that only one dedicated staff member will be handling cash.

Have Your Patience at the Ready

Even the best laid plans can go awry despite well-intentioned operators and park-goers alike.  Adjustments will need to be made constantly since we have never had to tackle a pandemic before.  The operator who can adapt and be agile in their operations as well as their mind-set will be ahead of the game by leaps and bounds.  That said, the park-goer who can nimbly alter their plan will be able to enjoy their foodservice experience even if it isn’t exactly what they had envisioned.

Safety is Key

Operators have taken much time analyzing every aspect of their foodservices with safety for both the patron and staff member in mind.  Expect temperature checks and masks to be the rule not the exception.  “Clean Teams” will be on hand to sanitize tables and touchpoints after each use.  Kitchen and prep work areas have been re-arranged and in some instances assembly line production has been streamlined so that staff members have less contact with each other.  Frequency of kitchen and servery sanitizing will be increased throughout the shift and at shift changes.  Scratch cook and streamlined menu offerings allow the chef the ability to make creative alternatives should the supply chain be interrupted, or ingredient costs escalate.

Even with reduced maximum occupancy capacities, expect that the speed of service may be longer than what has typically been the norm, especially when you also consider the sanitization that will need to occur after every customer transaction.  Point of sale and pick-up areas will be spaced out, closed off or removed depending on the footprint of the foodservice outlet.  Plexiglass protection has been installed in foodservice areas.

While self-serve buffets will be shuttered for the near future, theme parks are utilizing other means to offer food and beverage to patrons.  The buffets are being re-purposed to “plated by staff members.”  Walk-up stands, carts and kiosks, all with grab and go prepared options are being implemented in strategic locations featuring novelty and specialty foods that make each park famous, while being a viable seller for the operator.  No open food containers will be used, and disposables will be provided throughout the parks.  And everywhere hand sanitizer will be available.

Valu-able Incentives

Park-goers with all day and all-season dining or drink programs may be concerned about whether they will get the great value promised to them when they purchased the plans.  Here again, patience and flexibility will be needed as you navigate what these programs can offer you now.  A “limited time” incentive might be added to provide the same value you originally expected.  Self-serve refills will be replaced with staff-served paper cup refills to eliminate contamination.

Escape from Reality or Just Reality?

Parks have no precedent to look to when gauging how the consequences of the pandemic will impact their business.  The fact remains that the biggest margin of profit made at parks is on themed merchandise and food and beverage sales.  Plans have been put in place to provide the same exciting adventure, albeit with new measures to offset safety concerns and adhere to restrictions.  But there are many questions that will only be answered once people come to the parks.  Will park-goers stay in the parks as long as in the past?  Will it really be an escape from reality if everyone is wearing masks?  How will the ever-present mask impact food and beverage spending?

The reality is that regardless of where you go this summer social distancing, safety and mask-wearing is a necessity and the “same old” is now different.  So why not grab your mask and your phone.  Pack up your enthusiasm, flexibility and patience.  Get ready to experience your thrill of a lifetime!  Just make sure you make reservations!

Contributor:  Richard Eisenbarth, FCSI | President & COO

Resources:  IAAPA | IAAPA Education COVID-19 Impact on Food & Beverage

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