How amusement parks, baseball stadiums, eatertainment venues can inspire summer menus

Summer is the fun season – school is out, pools are open and fireworks are in the sky. But summer also adds a whole range of new food options fighting for the consumer dollar. Should we stay home and grill? Take the kids on vacation? Head out for a weekend of camping? Take in a ball game?

If you want to grab consumers’ attention in the busy summer months, the average hot dog isn’t going to cut the mustard, so take inspiration from some of the industry concepts that are experts at combining food and fun. Develop your summer menu, product, or marketing strategy with inspiration from amusement parks, state fairs, baseball stadiums, eatertainment venues and other operators associated with the summer months. These are the concepts that can get consumers out of the house and prompt “wows” when an attention-getting menu item comes out of the kitchen.

Amusement parks capture the imagination

At many amusement parks, the food options are integral to creating a visceral connection to a park’s theme.

“We found out very, very quickly when we opened that Butterbeer was definitely an overnight homerun,” Steven Jayson, corporate executive chef at Universal Orlando Parks & Resorts, told USA Today. In less than six months, the park’s Wizarding World of Harry Potter had sold more than a million mugs of the foam-topped, non-alcoholic drink, which inspired spinoff menu items and the need for additional sales venues.

Meanwhile, over at Disney World, the newest land – Pandora: The World of Avatar – features dishes designed to take you to an alien landscape. Summer favorites like cheeseburgers, quesadillas and hot dogs are transformed into edible “Steam Pods” by wrapping them in bao dough, while french toast is topped with a bright purple dollop of cheesecake sauce and drinks are topped with gooey boba balls.

Themed menus and products can capture the consumer imagination – look at all the toasts and lattes designed for mermaids and unicorns popping up on social media. Rebranding items that may be new to some US consumers, including kids (such as turning bao into alien “Steam Pods”), can also make novel foods and flavors more approachable.

State fairs, stadiums go over-the-top

At state fairs, carnivals, and baseball stadiums, “over-the-top” is the name of the game. This year baseball stadiums around the country introduced options like:

  • A $26 Tomahawk Pork Chop sandwich complete with the bone sticking out of the bun (Atlanta Braves, SunTrust Park)
  • The Choco Kebab, a 22-pound rotating chocolate cylinder which is shaved and served in a crêpe(Chicago White Sox, Guaranteed Rate Field)
  • A Pulled Pork Patty Melt served between two funnel cakes topped with a jalapeño popper and bacon (Kansas City Royals, Kauffman Stadium)
  • The $27, over-two-feet-long “Most Valuable Tamale” filled with a hot dog (Texas Rangers’ Globe Life Park)

This year’s state fairs are offering equally insane items, often by finding a way to fry the seemingly unfryable – Jell-O (State Fair of Texas), Nutella (Wisconsin State Fair) or Bubble Gum (New Jersey State Fair). Meanwhile, at the Minnesota State Fair, Sweet Martha’s Cookie Jar makes over $3 million in less than 2 weeks each year selling giant $16 buckets of chocolate chip cookies, making about 30,000 cookies every 12 minutes in order to fill the buckets, which hold about 4 dozen cookies each, according to Delish.

Many of these creations use ingredients and platforms that consumers are familiar with, but serve them in an over-the-top, attention-getting way. Even upscale operators can inject some fun into the dining experience. Chicago’s RPM Steak turns heads with its huge bowls of cotton candy brought out for special occasions, while Miami’s Barton G. is known for its cotton candy pompadour served on a bust of Marie Antoinette. What can you transform into an Instagram-worthy summer creation?

Eatertainment operators double down on the social experience

As the number of delivery services continues to increase, a new generation of “eatertainment” venues are popping up, creating social experiences that lure customers with “everyday special occasions.” At 33-location Topgolf, more than half of the chain’s revenue comes from food and drink and 37% of the brand’s visitors are non-golfers – they are there to have fun and socialize. The shareable-heavy menu includes options like buckets of canned wine, sliced watermelon pops on sticks drizzled with chocolate, the Mushi appetizer (Mexican sushi), and cups of 24 doughnut holes which customers inject with their preferred flavors. At Punch Bowl Social, with nine locations and more on the way, the eatertainment complex offers bowling, arcade games, and a bar menu featuring cocktails that can be ordered to serve one, four or eight. Las Vegas “adult playground” Gold Spike features options like giant beer pong, Twister and an 8 Man Milkshake for $80.

Think beyond traditional appetizers and flatbreads when creating items that can turn a summer meal into an experience that mimics a night out on the patio or around the campfire. Enlarge traditional menu items and turn them into over-the-top, shareable proportions (like massive cheeseburgers that can be cut into slices); shrink down large entrees into mini versions (sandwich kebabs, tiny pies); offer whole versions of foods that are typically portioned (sell a whole cake for the table instead of a slice); and offer group portions of foods and drinks at a discount (think cocktails available as a punch).

Taking inspiration from operators like eatertainment venues and amusement parks isn’t just about creating fun, summertime-friendly foods – these items also set the tone for the overall experience. When a giant punch bowl comes out and everyone takes a sip from their 2-foot-long straws – and other customers take notice – it creates an entertaining, social experience that exemplifies that “summer fun” feeling.

Mike Kostyo is the senior publications manager at Datassential, a supplier of trends, analysis and concept testing for the food industry. To purchase the publications mentioned in this article, contact Datassential Business Development Manager Susan Cohen at susan.cohen@datassential.com.

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