Five ways to increase guest length of stay and generate additional revenue at FECs

-- by Mike Bederka --

Guests stay at a facility for an average of 2.7 hours, according to the most recent IAAPA Family Entertainment Center Benchmark Report. But say you stretch the visit by just another 20 or 30 minutes, and during that time customers grab another drink, or play a few more games.

Hypothetically, add an extra five dollars for every guest who walks in the door of a facility with an annual attendance of 200,000 people, and that equals an additional 1 million dollars in revenue each year.

“The math is very powerful, and I think a lot of people tend to overlook that,” says Ray Smith, director of business development for the Family Entertainment Group, a designer, developer, and operator of family entertainment centers (FECs) in Itasca, Illinois. “Many owners think about big wins, but not everyone has the money to put in a new go-kart track. However, everyone can do it a little better.”

Learn how to maximize your guest potential with these five ways to increase length of stay.


1. Expand the Attraction Mix

While FECs do not necessarily need to add a major attraction, they should still actively look for new elements. This is especially helpful in dead spaces, says Marty Desrochers, president of Davenport, Florida-based Operation: Pineapple, a hospitality company that specializes in management, consulting, research, and education. For example, facilities with high ceilings can install a ropes/zipline course.
Smith agrees FECs should “reinvent themselves every day and in every way—if you’re not moving forward, you’re falling behind.”

He recommends escape rooms as a non-budget-busting addition with a small footprint that should increase length of stay. The attraction lasts roughly an hour, making it a big per-capita item. Plus, guests typically pre-book, so managers can better schedule labor. Escape rooms also naturally drive food and beverage sales.
“People grab a drink before or stay after to talk about the experience,” Smith says.

Stationary virtual reality attractions and mini-bowling can be two other smart, cost-effective pieces to add, he says. The former may give a facility a competitive edge over other nearby entertainment venues, while the latter could take a family as much as a half hour to play.

“With good seating and theming, mini-bowling is an attraction, not a game,” he says. “I don’t see it in enough locations.”


2. Up the Menu

Nothing increases length of stay, per-capita expenditures, and frequency of visits more than making an FEC a meal destination, says Randy White, CEO of White Hutchinson Leisure and Learning Group in Kansas City, Missouri. He served up these three statistics to illustrate his point:
• Almost half of U.S. citizens (47 percent) identify themselves as foodies.
• More than six in 10 (62 percent) say they are “totally adventurous” when trying new foods.
• Over two-thirds (68 percent) describe themselves as passionate about food and drink.
Smith acknowledges it may be difficult for an FEC to become a five-star gourmet restaurant, but facilities should at least strive to elevate the kitchen to a notch above frozen pizza, while also limiting the menu choices to streamline operations.

“Focus on what you do well,” he says. “Don’t be all things to all people.”


3. Happy Hour

Sipping an adult beverage often goes hand-in-hand with an improved food selection. Both Smith and Desrochers say FECs might consider securing a beer-and-wine license, a far more affordable option than a full liquor license.

“I think society is generally fine with mom and dad enjoying a glass of wine or a beer at an FEC, as long as they’re not drinking to excess,” Smith says. “While it may not be the reason guests choose your place over another, it can make them stay an extra 30 minutes while kids play more games and attractions.”


4. Bundle Packages

Once an FEC has a healthy attraction mix and upgraded food options, it can better maximize packages for guests, Desrochers says. For instance, a $14.99 dine-and-play deal that includes an entrée and one-hour play card makes customers think twice before leaving to grab a bite to eat.

The key to successful bundling comes from how staff sells it, he notes. To discover the most appropriate package to recommend, employees should ask customers investigative questions about what attractions they are excited to visit and how long they plan to stay.

As an incentive to keep employees productive, FECs can implement a commission program to reward package sales. “Say they earn 25 cents on every package they sell,” Desrochers says. “That adds up quickly, and it can be lucrative for the staff who put in the effort. Their paycheck could go up from $200 to $250 or $300.”

One caveat is that staff should never deliver the hard sell or “guilt-trip shtick.” He recalls one facility where an employee would intentionally sigh and act sheepish if a guest turned down a package.

“There’s a process,” Desrochers stresses. “It’s investigating who’s in front of you and recommending the best product based on what they told you. It doesn’t mean the best product for the seller’s pocketbook.”

Ron Kostelny, president of Nickels and Dimes, which operates 10 Tilt Studios across the United States, says employees will point out deals that might be a better value, but shy away from being pushy.

“We want customers to have a good time and come back,” he says. “Just trying to lure them to stay longer isn’t something we concentrate on.”


5. Offer a Respite

Uncomfortable adults reveal themselves with bored stares, frequent watch glances, and, before long, quick trips to the exit. As a remedy, FECs should set up a parent lounge with relaxing seating (not stiff plastic chairs) in an area away from the noise, Desrochers says. Along with that, provide free Wi-Fi so guests will not have problems accessing the Internet or eating up their data plan.

“Give them a place for a respite,” he suggests. “Let them watch football and drink a beer, or take out their laptop and do some work. It’s as simple as that.”

Bederka, M. (2017, May). Funworld Magazine. Retrieved June 07, 2017, from