EPISODE 10: The foundations of successful Food and Beverage programs and what the incoming chair of IAAPA envisions for the future

Guest: Ken Whiting, President of Whiting’s Foods

The ITPS I’M4FUN podcast with Dennis Speigel is pleased to welcome Ken Whiting, President of Whiting’s Foods. This special podcast episode focuses on the foundations of successful food and beverage programs, the second highest revenue generator in the attractions industry. Ken, as incoming chairman of the International Association of Amusement Parks & Attractions (IAAPA) in 2022, also shares his vision for the future in the wake of ever-changing times. Ken’s insight on Food and Beverage trends and what is being done in this sector to build revenue will be helpful to anyone in the leisure and amusement industry.

About Ken Whiting
Ken has over 40 years experience within the amusement parks and attractions industry. From his first job of peeling bananas, he is president of his family’s business, operating food & beverage at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk and other venues. He has provided guidance to parks and attractions worldwide on growing revenue and profits within all in-park spending areas, and has worked with industry employers to improve workplace productivity, performance and development, with the younger, next generation of employees. He attended his first IAAPA Expo in 1979, and was hooked. He has consistently volunteered in industry activities, as a member and chair of many IAAPA committees, special projects and programs, Expo and webinar presenter, and member of the Board of Directors. Currently Ken is Vice Chair of the Association.

Additional Questions after the Podcast

Thanks to everyone for joining us on January 27th when we welcomed Ken Whiting, President of Whiting’s Foods, to our ITPS I’M4FUN Podcast. Ken shared great insights on the Food and Beverage sector of our industry in what was a very dynamic conversation. Thank you to everyone who submitted a question during our live broadcast. For those that were not answered live, Ken has been gracious enough to provide answers to some remaining questions. These answers are below. For further questions, please reach out to us at itps@interthemepark.com.

What was your inspiration for starting the WAVES program, writing the book, and setting up the GenNext Success site?

The inspiration was based on my own experience as a large employer of teens and young adults, and what I was hearing from other employers around the country. After decades of consistent on the job performance, we began to experience a change in attitudes, understanding and reduction in workplace readiness skills. Business owners, managers and supervisors that I had spoken with had become increasingly frustrated and challenged with how to engage with their younger workforce…..and they needed help. Through discussions with industry friends and colleagues, it became clear that a new approach of how to engage with this age group of employees was needed.

Many employers had encouraged me to write a book, and invited me to speak with their leadership teams. With an expanded view of the teenage workforce across the country, I was inspired to provide additional resources for the teen and young adult employees and for those that lead them. That became the genesis of the WAVES for Success program and launching GenNextSuccess.com.

I remain committed and passionate about investing in the lives of teens and young adults. Globally our industry employs millions in their first job experience, and we are in a position of influence and have an ability to make a positive difference in their lives. I’m hopeful we can harness that power and make a difference.

How have you been able to maintain motivation among your staff during Covid?

On one hand it has been incredibly difficult, as so much of our staff has experienced job loss and reduction in work and wages. On the other hand, our core leadership team has gained the “gift of time” and been in a position to work on projects and pursue ideas that typically we simply don’t get to. This has generated many improvements that will serve us well when we get past the impacts of COVID.

We have seen that California has been one of the most challenging states with regard to COVID restrictions. Can you share with us any lessons learned from your experience of being shut down, allowed to reopen, only to be shut down once more after only one weekend open?

California has been very restrictive with significant limitations attached to reopening guidelines. We have learned how to operate in an environment that keeps our employees and our guests safe, and we remain confident that our guests will return when we are allowed to reopen. Perhaps the greatest lesson learned has been to stay flexible and adaptable to the variety of workplace changes we have faced, and to be transparent with regular with communications.

What have you seen in parks today as far as how they are adapting with fewer employees, namely in the F&B sector?

Parks that are open and have limited employees have made several changes to their F&B operations. Menus have been reduced, mobile ordering and contactless payment has been implemented, more prepackaged foods have been included, and fewer F&B locations are opening.

What impact has alcohol had on the industry, in your opinion?

What used to be the exception has become the norm. The addition of alcoholic beverages is the biggest trend in the food and beverage area of parks and attractions. Typically it adds to the guest experience through the addition of local craft beers, fun frozen beverages, and unique tropical drinks. This has been able to be done while maintaining the family friendly environment we all require.

Obviously, with Covid, the traditional way to use a park’s IP through something like a “dine with characters” program has been impacted. People were happy to pay an upcharge for this unique service. What you have you seen in changes to these programs and do you think they will return? What changes do you expect?

At the minimum these types of character dining experience have taken a pause. My crystal ball believes they won’t return in 2021, however could in 2022 based on the realities of COVID. I have no doubt that those properties that have this type of IP to leverage, will experiment with ways to deliver some type of photo, or dine with the character opportunity……from 6 feet away.

How have changes to the season pass sales programs impacted F&B in the parks today? What has been the impact to per cap?

Season passholder and membership programs have grown, it have had a tremendous impact on F&B operations. Many Parks experience well over 50% of their attendance being passholders. Without adapting to this trend, per caps will reduce, as season passholders have local familiarity, and with the exception of a beverage or indulgence item, they will eat around their visit.

Those parks that have adapted to this trend by marketing directly to passholders and members have seen an increase in per cap spending. That is being accomplished in part with limited time offers, special deals and unique opportunities, annual dining programs, and refill or other value added programs, most that are exclusive to their passholder/member base.

Nation’s Restaurant News posed the question recently “Did service kill hospitality in the restaurant industry?” We are now finding new ways to provide service with mobile ordering, but are we sacrificing experience and hospitality?

No doubt that technology, through mobile ordering, contactless payment, delivery, and self-ordering kiosks has reduced the amount of personal customer service. And it’s here to stay. With that said, all businesses in the hospitality industry need to identify all the personal touch points they still have with their guests…..and make that a positive experience by exceeding expectations. So much of that gets back to excelling in the basics; eye contact, smiling (even with a mask), remembering/using first names, thanking, being proactive and foreseeing needs, and being empowered to make decisions. And, businesses need to set their employees up for success by having polices, programs and training that supports that.     

Feasibility Analysis - Design / Masterplanning - Pre-Opening Operations Planning - Management

International Theme Park Services, Inc.
International Theme Park Services, Inc.

Contact ITPS

International Theme Park Services, Inc. 
2195 Victory Parkway
Cincinnati, Ohio 45206
United States of America
Phone: 513-381-6131