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Is now the time to improve theme park food and dining experiences?

Food. We all need it, it’s often a pleasure, but sometimes it doesn’t meet the expectations we as consumers come to expect. Theme parks and amusement parks have long been stereotyped for offering low quality ‘junk food’ that focuses on speed and scale, rather than taste and experience.

Things are changing in visitor attractions with the inclusion of premium dining experiences and a surge in vegetarian and vegan options, but the contentious issue of food quality and price in theme parks remains an ongoing concern for guests.


Overall satisfaction

The U.S focussed Voice of the Visitor Report, has historically found that guests rank the food experience at visitor attractions at 3.75 on average - the worst performing ‘area’ in their survey. Not only is the food experience underperforming compared to the overall guest experience, customer service and value for money of an attraction, it is actively bringing down the average scores of guests.


The food

Research by YouGov has shown that the majority of UK consumers deem food and drink at visitor attractions to be too expensive. 87% of respondents believed this to be the case. At this point, it is worth highlighting the difference between cost and value - if guests believed they were getting a brilliant product and service, the expense of purchasing the goods would be irrelevant.

A great example of this is pizza. Averaging £1.58 ($1.90) cost to make, pizza is both the most popular and most profitable cuisine on the planet. As a result, the choices available to consumers to buy pizza are wide ranging. This has a fundamental impact on how pizzas in theme parks and visitor attractions are perceived. Here's our analysis of a 'Meat Feast' pizza across six different vendors.

As you can see, theme parks on average are the most expensive place to eat pizza. While typically providing a speedy, convenient service, the price point means that guests expect a far better product than what is on offer. This is where the issue of ‘expensive’ food derives from.


The dining experience

What drives repeat visits and great reviews? An amazing experience of course. Yet our own survey data has shown that dining areas are the most likely facility of a theme park to ‘make’ or ‘break’ the experience - coming second only to toilets.

Described as one of the most immersive theme park restaurants in the world, Diner ‘X’ as we are calling it for this study, is a good example of style over substance. Scoring an impressive 4.5 stars for atmosphere on TripAdvisor, many guests have lauded their ‘dining experience’ - but have been left disappointed by the service and actual food.

Diner ‘X’ scores just 3.5 out of 5 stars for satisfaction for food quality. Recent guests describe the dishes as “Meh”, “OK” and even “Terrible”. Is this now OK within our industry to offer average food in a highly themed dining experience - when food is clearly a main driver for guests now?


Impacting trends

There’s two big factors that make improving dining experiences at theme parks a priority right now. First, takeaways. The average American now spends $67 per week on takeout food - with restaurant quality food being enjoyed at home at the press of a button.

Secondly, the demand for immersive dining experiences continues to gather pace. Speakeasy bars, multisensory dining and pop-up Michelin experiences are all currently popular. As demand grows for such experiences, so too does the expectation of guests to be offered a product and service that is reasonable to its surroundings.


Next steps

There is room for improvement across the whole industry to improve both the food and dining experiences at theme parks. Are current guests disappointed by your food and dining? How can food quality be increased to meet guest expectations? What dining experience could you create that ‘makes’ the visit for guests? Certainly food for thought.

Take a look at some of our themed dining projects Electric Daisy, The Terrace, LEGO® Cafe and Market Place.

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