Restaurant Monitoring Done Right

By Jennifer Hoffman

restaurant-security-camera

Repeat after me: Restaurant video surveillance isn’t the end-all solution to your operational needs.

Now more than ever, video solutions are extremely accessible via the Internet. Sure, they might help reduce losses at the point-of-sale and decrease inefficiencies. For instance, a manager might be able to observe peak traffic times and adjust staffing needs accordingly. Video may also help to spot Hillary Clinton at a Chipotle, if you remember that story from April.

Then there are those retail chains that use video surveillance as a “gotcha,” big brother management tool.  In 2012, 7-Eleven spent $40 million on digital technology, reported the Los Angeles TImes. One one hand, some franchisees were indeed stealing from the company. However, one franchise attorney called this level of security “paranoia city.”

7-Eleven is a different industry, but I use the example to show how video surveillance can be a slippery slope. In addition to the risk of making your employees feel uncomfortable, video surveillance in operations has three drawbacks:

1. Video needs to be constantly monitored

Seriously, who has the time to watch through hours of video per day to gather notes? It’s so much easier when you are presented with real-time data that lends itself to clear and actionable insights.

2. Video doesn’t tell the whole story

Why are customers not going near the new promotional display in the middle of the store or ordering the new menu item? Could it be that new promotional materials were not displayed correctly to let customers know that a promotion is taking place?

3. Video misses the customer perspective

Even a high-quality video won’t pick up on a dirty restroom, poorly washed utensils and the awful noise coming from the vent under the table.

Great News for the Restaurant IndustryJust this week, Technomic Inc. released its 2015 midway report with excellent news: Customer traffic is back to pre-recession levels. Employing qualitative data analysis, Technomic’s researchers were able to pinpoint six key trends:

  1. Fast-casual restaurants show no signs of slowing down and are outpacing other segments in growth.
  2. Build-your-own concepts keep growing. (For example, Blaze Fas-Fire’d Pizza currently has a pipeline of more than 400 restaurants that are slated to open in 42 states, Washington, D.C, and Canada by 2020.)
  3. Some quick-service restaurants have achieved cult-like status.
  4. More restaurants are removing additives from their menus because of increased consumer awareness.
  5. Everyone is now a foodie thanks to blogging and social media platforms like Instagram.
  6. Tech is necessary. However Technomic does not identify digital cameras as the kind of tech restaurants need. Rather, consumer-facing technology--online ordering, table tablets and mobile apps--rule the day.

These trends provide enough reason for why managers need to be present in their stores. How do you know if your quick-service restaurants are executing menu items correctly? How do you know if you’re delivering the branded experience that makes QSRs reach that cult-like status?

We often say that you need eyes and ears in the field. In the restaurant industry, you also need a heart out in the field. The most successful restaurateurs are passionate about their food and their culture. So, get out there and make technology work for younot the other way around.

Topics: Business Operations, Restaurants

Is a Restaurant REIT the Right Move for Darden’s Olive Garden?

By Vladik Rikhter

olive_garden_exterior

Is it a matter of financial success or a move that indicates a larger operational problem lurking beneath the surface? Ultimately, that’s what investors are trying to determine regarding Darden Restaurant Inc.’s decision to transfer approximately 430 of its more than 1,500 Olive Garden restaurants to a publicly traded real-estate investment trust (REIT) and lease them back.

Darden is the first major restaurant chain to take such a step, reported the Wall Street Journal. Prodding by Darden’s activist investor, Starboard Value LP, contributed to this decision (more information on this below).

Switching to an asset-light model via a REIT is becoming an increasingly popular move among large chains.The WSJ article sites Bob Evans Farms Inc. and McDonald’s Corp. as two companies who have recently explored this financial option. Notably, all of these brands have something important in common. They have all made recent headlines for financial and brand struggles.

Here are three examples: 

  1. McDonald’s is closing more restaurants that its opening for the first time in nearly 40 years. 
  2. Bob Evans Inc. will close 20 underperforming locations and eliminate 60 positions as part of $14 million cost cuts.
  3. In October 2013, an activist investor group won all 12 seats on Darden’s board of directors after arguing the Olive Garden chain is poorly run. It is true that 2014 Olive Garden sales plummeted. This is a big problem since Olive Garden reportedly accounts for 56% of Darden’s total sales.

Through the REIT, Olive Garden will pay back $1 billion in debt. It raises the question, is a real estate investment trust a sign of bailing out the sinking ship?

It could be, according to one analyst for Motley Fool, who calls an REIT a short-term solution to a long-term problem. Darden owns more than 1,500 U.S. restaurants, so “being a landlord is a sideline business that distracts from its real purpose of serving food,” one analyst remarked.

“This REIT is ultimately just a gimmick -- financial engineering that does not address Olive Garden's real long-term problems, including a shift in consumer sentiment away from carb-heavy foods like pasta toward healthier fare,” he concluded.

Maybe that’s true about the healthy trend, or maybe not. It could also be that people were just getting bored with the brand or had a disappointing meal.

Olive Garden’s Silver Lining

Fortunately for Olive Garden, there’s a silver lining in this pasta bowl. The restaurant chain recently reported an increase in sales and profits, and experienced a  4% lift in stock prices.

For now, the REIT is resounding with investors as Olive Garden returns to the basics that gave its brand a national presence. The chain brought back its “Buy One [entree], Take One” program for a limited time in March and its new breadstick sandwiches have also seemed to resonate with customers.

Menu innovation might be the key to Olive Garden regaining market share and gaining new customers. Consistency across the franchise will be just as important.

Interestingly, when activist investors Starboard Value Partners took control in late 2013, they created a presentation about what Olive Garden was doing wrong. Problems included not salting the pasta water, putting excessive amounts of sauce on its food, and having non-Italian menu items, CNN Money reported.

It may be too early to tell if Olive Garden has raised the bar on its menu, but at least these consistency issues were noticed and documented. It’s further evidence that Starboard is righting the Olive Garden ship instead of merely bailing it out.

Topics: Business Operations, Restaurants

How to Hire & Retain the Right Retail Employees

By Brian Harris

happy-apple-retail-employees

“Your people make all the difference. The only thing your competitors can’t copy is your culture and your people.” – Mel Kleiman, expert on hiring the best hourly employees

In one day, Mel Kleiman’s “employee from hell” totaled nine Hertz rental cars. Kleiman, who once owned the largest group of Hertz Rent-A-Car franchise locations in the U.S., is also the founder of Humetrics, a consulting firm that specializes in helping companies hire the best hourly employees.

According to Kleiman, hourly employees comprise more than 60 percent of the U.S. workforce, but many companies fall short on retaining top employees long enough to see a return on their investment. The result is high turnover rates and high costs to the employer.

How do you find the right retail employees? It’s a two-way street between the applicant and employer. Kleiman says to hire tough and manage easy. (In fact, that’s the name of his book.)

He urges employers to ask tough questions during the interview process. Don’t just ask them about their ability to do the tasks required in your job opening. Kleiman says that 95 percent of applicants will come to the interview prepared to tell you only what you want to hear.

Instead, ask them about their past job experiences and their ability to work with others. Ask them what their most difficult job was and how long they stayed at it.

Retention of Great Retail Employees is Self-Reflective

The hiring process isn’t just applicant/employee-centric. It’s also employer-centric. What kind of company are you inviting the applicant to join?

In the above video, Kleiman identifies five things all great employee is looking for in a job:

1. Great Bosses, Great Employees
Your employees are more likely to stay when they are surrounded by good people who want to see them succeed. How do managers measure up? How effective is the senior management team at communicating?

2. Growth
Employees are more likely to stay when they have an opportunity to advance or grow their skill set.

3. Interesting Work
Challenge your employees. Give them new responsibilities.

4. Family Friendly Work Environment
Life exists outside of work. Employees want to work for people who recognize and respect that fact.

5. Recognition
It’s a human emotion to crave recognition. People want to know when they are doing a good job. An occasional reward can go a long way!

Here’s an important question: Do you use the right tools to measure your store’s progress so you can identify your great employees, grow your business, experiment with new tasks/responsibilities, properly staff your stores so employees have a consistent schedule, and recognize your staff?

Falling short in one or more of these areas may also be holding you back from hiring the right people. You can’t just hire people who look good on paper to fix your business. Your company needs to be strong from the ground up, so you can attract good, hardworking employees who will grow with your business.

“We hire people for who they are, not what they know. Your most important job is making sure you hire the right people,” Kleiman concluded.

Topics: Professional Development, Business Operations

Auditing Branded Gas Station Forecourts Can Increase Supplier Payments

By Scott Hill

Shell Gas Station forecourt
Photo by Daniel Oines, on Flickr

Branded gas station operations are an interesting business. According to NACS, the Association for Convenience & Fuel Retailing, approximately half of the fueling stations in the country sell branded fuel from one of 15 major refiners/suppliers. Often, these stations have signage that make them look like they are owned by the refining or supply company. However, many major oil companies have left the retail fuels business to concentrate on upstream production.

As NACS explains, the contractual relationship between a supply company and the retailer is similar to the relationship between soda companies and branded fountain dispensers.

Common Problems in a Typical Supplier Scenario

For the purpose of examining the typical supplier/retailer relationship, let’s consider a fictitious c-store chain, Sandy’s Shops. Sandy’s is a regional company that operates a Shell-branded forecourt as part of its supplier agreement with the fuel supplier. Sandy’s also pays a premium on the gas it sells because of the brand value Shell holds.

Since Shell’s brand image is at stake at this station, Shell routinely audits the forecourt. If Shell finds that this area is maintained according to brand standards, Shell will repay Sandy’s a portion of the gas markup.

See Also: Converting Your Forecourt into a Moneymaker

Sounds like a good deal, right? It is, as long as the forecourt is held up to standards. When it isn’t, this contractual arrangement becomes a disaster for Sandy’s.

Even when standards are considered low, it takes Sandy’s an average of 90 days to receive a copy of Shell’s audit report. Shell will deduct those 90 days from their premium reimbursement total. Ouch!

In a business where gas prices change overnight and customers complete a purchase within minutes, this arrangement doesn’t make a lot of sense.

The Case for Real-Time Data & Shared Responsibility

If Sandy’s had been self-auditing their forecourt on a regular basis, they would be able to report and respond to maintenance issues in real time. They wouldn’t have lost out on the money Shell pays back.

However, Shell could also help their retail partner by sharing its audit results in real-time via a mobile platform, rather than sharing this report quarterly. Sandy’s wouldn’t miss out on 90 days of payment, and Shell would maintain a high brand image.

When having a clean forecourt is in everyone’s best interest, suppliers and retailers should support one another. They can easily do so with mobile technology.

Topics: Business Operations, C-store

How Much Time Should You Spend at Your Franchises?

By Jennifer Hoffman

franchise-logos

If you’re a franchise operator who feels like you’ve been burning the candle at both ends lately, you might be told to “join the club.” Maybe your fellow managers say it, but hopefully that’s not the overall attitude of the corporate team. After all, who would want to join a club where the members feel exhausted and overwhelmed on a regular basis?

A franchise manager can’t be everywhere at once as a network grows. In fact, management should become less complicated over time – not more difficult. If you feel increasingly overwhelmed and short on time, it’s time to take a step back and look at your process.

“Focus on being productive instead of being busy.”Timothy Ferriss
Author “The 4-Hour Workweek

Consider how you might simplify franchise management. Take a few minutes to answer the following questions:

  • What are your current tasks in managing your franchise?
  • What are the goals you’ve wanted to accomplish, but haven’t had time for?
  • Which of your tasks can you absolutely not delegate at the store level?
  • Which of your tasks can you possibly assign to the store level?
  • What are your current productivity tools?

You may begin to see redundancies in your schedule, as well as opportunities to delegate and refocus your energies on a new initiative.

Take advice from New York Times bestselling author Tim Ferriss, author of “The 4-Hour Workweek.” Ferriss tells his readers how to “DEAL” with a packed work schedule, or “DELA” if you have a regular job like a franchise manager.

Definition

Set clear and attainable goals for yourself, your management colleagues and your franchisees.

Elimination

Focus only on those tasks that contribute to the majority of results, and delegate the rest. It’s the 80-20 rule, where 80 percent of your results come from 20 percent of your efforts.

Liberation

Free yourself from any one geographical location.  Ferriss talks about liberation as a lifestyle change, but from a franchise manger’s perspective it’s important to not be stuck behind a desk or constantly on the road. Let your store managers be your eyes and ears in the field. This kind of freedom will greatly reduce stress.

Automation

Ferriss talks about generating automated sources of income. However, this principle can also be applied to store operations. Automate your processes to save time and be more effective.

Coincidentally, Ferriss is a critic of technology and advocates hiring personal assistants from developing countries to free up even more time. However, unless you’re a solopreneur like he is, this may be rather difficult. If you need to stay connected, make sure mobile technology works for you and eliminates redundancies.

For instance, a series of emails to a store manager regarding a retail report might look like this:

  1. Did you get the store audit form?
  2. OK, here is the store audit form. Please see attachment.
  3. Did you complete the store audit form yet?
  4. I received the store audit form, and this is what I need you to do.

With the right mobile tools, these tasks can be consolidated onto one platform that identifies incomplete tasks and tracks progress.

So, how much time should you spend at your franchise? You’ll never have a four-hour workweek in retail, but you don’t have to have a 14-hour day, either. It’s a personal question and responses may vary. Before attempting to answer, though, take that important step back to look at your processes at the store level.

Topics: Business Operations, Franchise

3 Reasons Why Mystery Shopping is Dead

By Brian Harris

fry-mystery-shopper

It’s time to toll the bell for mystery shopping programs. Some retailers may be resistant to the change, and it’s sure to disappoint some faithful shoppers who earn extra money with these programs. However, the process of mystery shopping is outdated, time consuming and limiting when it comes to determining actionable insights.

Top 3 Reasons Why Mystery Shopping is Dead

 

3. Shoppers no longer see the time-cost benefit

Take, for instance, Johnny and Joanna’s mystery shopping experience. They are a young couple who were trying to make ends meet while living in New York City. At first, they enjoyed the free perks, extra cash and flexible schedule that mystery shopping provided. In the end, however, they decided the pay wasn’t worth their time and effort. They called the process of logging information and writing reviews “labor-intensive” and found that they were making less than minimum wage.

Likewise, retailers must consider the time-cost benefit of their current programs. While a retailer may be paying a company to help them sort through paperwork and countless photos, is the cost worth it? As a senior management team, do you have the time and resources to decipher the actionable insights from this data and create a course of action?

2. Mystery shopping has been linked to a growing number of scams

Consumers across the country have reported mystery shopping scams and are increasingly skeptical of becoming involved in these programs. The government has confirmed there are dishonest mystery shopping promoters and scammers who issue fake checks in an attempt to get people to wire money to a third party. Of course, these scams are detrimental to retailers who operate honest programs.

Technology is the double-edged sword for mystery shopping. On one hand, it makes more scams possible. On the other hand, consumer awareness is heightened as people self-educate.

1. Mystery shopping falls short on tracking progress over time

Mystery shopping data may serve as a snapshot of your stores, but it doesn’t provide the kind of thorough analysis retail operators need over time. Ultimately, the need for mystery shoppers is decreasing as district managers in the field employ mobile technology on their store visits. By uploading photos and videos, store managers and employees can be the senior management team’s eyes and ears in the field. Plus, the company’s own employees are better at spotting issues related to their stores.

Also, these staged situations can sometimes tip off employees that they are being evaluated. The “big brother” aspect of mystery shopping – the idea that management is looking for things that are wrong in the consumer’s experience – can cause a salesperson to become defensive when they discuss results with managers.

However, with transparent, employee-led auditing, the senior management team gains the ability to assign tasks when problems are reported at individual stores and track progress to ensure that these issues are resolved. When tasks are completed, employees can be commended for performing their duties, which leads to a more positive work environment.

Topics: Business Operations, Retail

Improving Restaurant Labor Productivity with Mobile Technology

By Brian Harris

qsr-employees

The minimum wage debate is a hot-button issue facing the restaurant industry right now.

Los Angeles just became the largest city in America to raise its minimum wage to $15. The increase will be staged in over the next five years. By passing this measure, the city joins Seattle and San Francisco in the push for $15 by 2018. Meanwhile in New York, a board met Monday to discuss the implications of raising the minimum wage for fast-food workers.

For restaurants and restaurant management companies, there are potential pros and cons of paying minimum wage restaurant employees more. Without getting into the political nature of this debate, it’s important to discuss one overriding issue: labor productivity.

Labor costs are a growing concern for the restaurant industry, writes Jonathan Maze of Nation’s Restaurant News. The head of the National Restaurant Association’s research and knowledge group recently revealed that restaurants average $84,000 in sales per worker. In comparison, grocers average $304,000 and gas stations rake in $855,000. All of these industries are competing with restaurants for customers, so something must be done.

Mobile Technology Closes the Gap

As we’ve discussed previously, the restaurant industry is highly demanding in terms of brand consistency and customer service. While it’s not easy for restaurants to increase labor efficiency, there may be some options that have not yet been fully explored.

Maze points out that technology is often an untapped resource. At the restaurant level, tablets and ordering apps could help the wait staff become more efficient and possibly reduce the size of the staff.

However, there is a much greater opportunity for mobile technology to increase labor efficiency.  Think of all the time that could be saved if employees started their shift knowing exactly what needs to be done. Senior management could assign mobile tasks to quickly and efficiently resolve issues and complete tasks. Those extra minutes emailing and making phone calls are eliminated, adding up to hours saved.

Consider a scenario where a restaurant chain needs to start preparing for a summer menu promotion. At the front of the house, signage and menus have to change. At the back of the house, new supplies need to be ordered and the kitchen staff needs to prepare. This is a multi-step rollout that needs to be done accurately across a chain.

Senior management could assign mobile tasks with start and end dates to complete the rollout while checking that benchmarks are being reached. With progress monitored in real time, last minute scrambling and guesswork is eliminated, staff members aren’t stressed out, and the restaurant is poised to capitalize on sales.

When productivity increases, labor costs are kept under control because restaurants don’t need to hire as many employees. So, if the minimum wage does in fact increase in the city or state where you operate, a restaurant can afford to pay higher wages without a devastating financial impact.

Remember: If the senior management team wants employees to be more productive, they have to practice what they preach by implementing the right tools and strategies.

Topics: Business Operations, Restaurants

Motivating Your Retail Employees

By Julia Burnett

modells-undercover-boss

President Teddy Roosevelt will forever be tied to Big Stick ideology, which has the mantra “speak softly and carry a big stick.” It was his foreign affairs philosophy that you negotiate peacefully while threatening the “big stick” of military action if needed.

Prior to his appearance on the hit TV show “Undercover Bosses,” CEO Mitchell Modell of Modell’s Sporting Goods was more of a leader who spoke loudly while carrying the big stick. As the fourth generation leader of his family-owned business, he aggressively cut spending with the goal of driving profits. As of the episode’s filming, Modell’s operated 154 stores in 11 states. Revenues exceed $600 million.

What Modell didn’t realize, however, was that his no-nonsense, profit-driven approach had become too far removed from the everyday operations of his business. He went undercover to find out why some stores were underperforming, but learned a great deal more in the process about his associates.

One of his first assignments was working with an assistant manager in Connecticut. The manager, James, called Modell’s New England stores the “red-headed stepchild” of Modell’s, a New York-based company. The stores were understocked and James felt frustrated by upper management’s lack of attention to the problems happening in his store.

Taking the “Big Stick” approach, Modell got on his cell phone and started complaining to someone on his team that district managers were not doing their part to audit stores.

Don’t Lose Sight of the Team Effort

Digging deeper, Modell discovered a systemic problem affecting not only his retail associates, but also his warehouse employees and truck drivers. The issue was low pay. Employees who were not managers were making minimum wage, even though their jobs required hours on their feet and other physical demands. One retail associate has resorted to living in a homeless shelter in order to support her young children.

“When I look at the situation at our distribution center, I’ve got to change this,” said Modell. “I’m going to make sure that we’re a company where people feel good about coming to work and feeling that’s if they’re going to work hard, they’re going to be recognized and rewarded. Right now, that is not the case and I feel horrible.”

Remember Your Associates are People, Not Numbers

In retail, employee turnover is high and margins can be tight. It’s all too easy for senior management to just focus on the latest reports.

One truck driver named Kirk said upper management was clueless. “They only look at the bottom line and when they only look at the bottom line they lose focus of what really happens,” he said.

Rather than try to solve the problem from the “ivy tower” of a New York City office, they have to take action as Modell did. This doesn’t mean they have to shave their heads and wear a walrus moustache in disguise. Instead, they need to enable their district and store managers to be their eyes and ears in the field.

Perhaps motivating your retail employees comes down to three basic principles:

  1. Pay them enough to reduce turnover and incentivize your motivated talented employees to stay.
  2. Take the time to ask your employees how you can make their job easier.
  3. Energize your employees by motivating yourself. Show them you care enough about your business to follow through on their feedback. It sends the message: “What we do here is important and you are a part of our success.”

Following the show, Modell decided to motivate himself to lose weight, given the physical demands of his associates’ jobs, which he found challenging. He changed the employee compensation structure of his company, and emerged from the experience re-energized, re-committed to his associates and full of lessons for his two young sons, the future leaders of the family business.

Topics: Business Operations, Retail

Why Movie Theaters Need to be Audited

By Naomi Balagot

empty movie theater

“I’ll just wait for it to come out on Netflix or Redbox.” Those are the dreaded words for movie theaters, which continue to struggle in foot traffic. The overall box office plunged 5.2 percent in 2014 as attendance dropped approximately 6 percent to 1.26 billion.

It makes sense when everyone has their own silver screen right in the palm of their hand! There has to be a more concerted effort at the corporate level than simply hoping the blockbuster releases are well-timed.

Movie theater operations should revolve around a single goal: To ensure that the movie-going experience meets -- and hopefully exceeds -- customer expectations for an enjoyable experience. Basically, theaters need to convince people to leave home.

This is why it’s crucial to regularly audit each aspect of the movie-goer’s experience, from the moment they enter the door to the time they leave. Here are three key areas of auditing a movie theater and sample form questions.

I. Promotional

  • Are the correct movie titles and showtimes displayed on the marquis outside?
  • Is the marquis well lit at night?
  • Does the board at the point-of-sale accurately display the latest releases and showtimes?
  • Are the correct promotional trailers running before each showing?
  • Are the latest promotional materials displayed for new and upcoming releases?

These may include:

  • posters
  • ceiling hangers
  • cardboard standups
  • digital signs

II. Concessions

  • Are all concession machines and condiment dispensers working?
  • Are the self-serve areas clean and organized (popcorn butter machine, straws, napkins, ketchup)
  • Are surfaces clean?
  • How are inventory levels? (You don’t want to run out of candy on a Friday night!)
  • Food safety: What is the temperature of the refrigerator for prepared foods (hot dogs, chicken tenders, pizza)?

III. The Experience

  • Safety first: Are emergency exits functional?
  • Is there adequate lighting?
  • What is the temperature of the theater?
  • Are projectors checked and serviced regularly?
  • Are films properly stored?
  • Is the cleaning schedule upheld?
  • Are theater floors swept and debris cleared after each showing?

Other operational aspects to keep in mind:

  • Audit the cash handling system.
  • Check registers, not only at the concession stand but also at the ticket booth.
  • Audit self-serve ticket machines.
  • If appropriate, regular audit your website’s ticket ordering system to ensure that it’s working properly. Accidentally overselling a show is a fast way to anger customers!
  • Check that restrooms are clean. This is crucial anywhere food is served.

Also keep an eye on staffing levels. For instance, more help may be needed ushering or selling tickets than behind the concession stand. Managers need the ability to respond to challenges in real time in order to cater to today’s average customer who wants everything on demand.

Remember: It’s important to stay positive and nimble in a challenging, multi-faceted operation.

"I remain very optimistic about our business and the future of our business, but everybody has to be smart and nimble and open to change," said Sue Kroll, president of worldwide marketing and international distribution at Warner Bros. "It's definitely a different climate out there, but the movies are the movies, and there will always be a place for moviegoing."

Topics: Business Operations

Bowling Alley Operations & The Upscaling of an American Pastime

By Brian Harris

dirty bowling alley
Photo by Jonathan Haeber, on Flickr

Bowling is one of those versatile activities that could be at the center of a child’s birthday party, a corporate team-building event, a first date, or a professional competition. There’s something uniquely American about renting a pair of shoes and hurling a 10-pound ball to knock over some objects.

So, why are more and more bowling alleys closing?

"It's a different business than when I ran centers in the 1970s," Sandy Hansell, a former bowling alley proprietor, told USA Today. "In those days, the business was built around leagues. Those days are gone."

Bowling alley growth peaked in the mid-1960s and revenues were driven primarily by league membership. Many leagues centered around the blue collar workplace. Today, however, more young adults have white collar jobs than blue collar jobs, so league membership is down.

We’ve talked about the upscaling of restaurants, airports and hotels across America. It seems that the new American dream is the paradox of “affordable luxury.” A night out on the town is something everyone can afford. It seems like AMF Bowling got the hint with this commercial:

Today, traditional bowling alleys are competing with hybrid bowling/billiard room/shuffleboard room/arcade venues. Dave & Buster’s readily comes to mind, and USA Today points to a similar concept in Punch Bowl Social in Detroit, which also offers a karaoke bar and a full sit-down restaurant.

As one 23-year-old patron put it, “I don't like the old-time bowling alleys. They kind of smell."

You know what’s synonymous with things that smell? Things that break!

The good news is that the fundamentals of bowling alley maintenance have not changed much in the last 50 years, according to Tom Schemm, owner of Schemm Bowling Inc.

Here are the top five perennial bowling alley problems and how to fix them:

  1. Balls that wind up in the gutter  - Lanes should be sanded, smoothed, and kept dry and level. After the lanes are dry, they are treated with a combination of base coats, top coats and sealers.
  2. Bowling balls that don’t return – The ball return is a system of conveyor belts and steel rails that need to be serviced and cleaned regularly.
  3. Pins that aren’t reset when knocked over – Pinsetters need to be cleaned daily and their mechanical parts should be wiped down at least once per week.
  4. Glitchy computers  – Computer support is usually the scoring system’s area of expertise. However, maintenance staff should be prepared to replace a broken monitor if needed.
  5. Yucky bowling balls and dirty-looking pins – Bowling alleys are meant to “pop” visually. Pins should be on a rotating schedule and stored in a cool, dry place. Bowling balls should be regularly wiped and polished.

All of these issues have something in common: consistency. Bowling is a game of wear and tear. Things will break, putting the new hybrid bowling alleys and old-time alleys on an even playing field when it comes to operations.

The Final Frame

Bowling remains a $6 billion industry in the U.S., according to the USA Today report. Bowling alleys don’t need to operate an indoor amusement park to offer something that will get customers in the door. However, they should look to carve out a niche.

For instance, The Gutter in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, brands itself “a bar with a bowling alley” and caters exclusively to an adult crowd. Pinz in Los Angeles caters to a younger crowd by offering roller lights, pins that glow in the dark ,and a state-of-the-art sound system.

Don’t be afraid to innovate, but be consistent with maintenance to deliver a satisfactory customer experience.

Topics: Business Operations