As with ballparks, food is a crucial part of the entertainment at theme parks, whether it’s sampling Butterbeer at Harry Potter World or Cheese on a Stick at Cedar Point.
As a kind of theme park enthusiast (aka nerd), I’ve eaten my way through many over the years and have always encountered the same problem: when it comes to food, the lines are often as long as the ones for the rides, which seems like a weird problem to have in this day and age of self-service kiosks and mobile payments.
Nowadays, though, consumers are less patient with that problem. Recent research from Omnico notes that 75 percent of U.S. theme park visitors say they “often or occasionally” skip food and beverage at parks because of the lines. Meanwhile, around half of U.S. visitors would quadruple their spending for the sake of convenience that comes with mobile ordering.
With that in mind, here are a few trends to look for should you find yourself searching for your next meal in an amusement park this summer:
Apps are including more dining features.
Last year, Disney rolled out the My Disney Experience app for Disney World Orlando guests. It’s not unlike the Starbucks mobile app: Guests can view menus of participating restaurants (fast-casual ones, at this point), order and pay for food, then head to a specific location to pick up the goods when they’re ready. Disney has also made this feature available for Disneyland Anaheim. So while you’re waiting in that inexplicably long line for Peter Pan’s Flight, you can peruse the park’s culinary offerings and get lunch ordered and ready before the whole family gets hangry.
Universal’s app deserves mention here, too. It’s not quite as robust as Disney in terms of dining (yet), but you can purchase the Universal Dining Plan – Quick Service, in which guests purchase a food package from the app then pick the food up at a designated location in the park. For an adult, that includes one quick-service meal, one snack, and one drink (no booze). You can also book meals with various characters via the app.
The robots are coming.
Actually, the robots are here — at least in certain parks. At Japan’s Dutch-themed Huis Ten Bosch amusement park, operator H.I.S. plans to reduce its human staff from 1,200 to 800 over the next three years. They’ll replace these vacant spots with robots. The goal is to use robots and the Internet of Things to perform a variety of tasks previously done by humans, including food service.
The company already operates a nearby hotel manned almost entirely by robots, including one that makes savory pancakes ; a theme park implementation will probably look similar. “Our goal is to boost the productivity of the service industry,” Chairman and CEO Hideo Sawada said recently. H.I.S. will also test out mobile payments and says it plans to go cashless by the end of the year.
Grocery delivery is on the rise.
Theme parks do their best to keep you locked into their ecosystem, but there are still plenty of folks out there who can’t or won’t fork out for some of the fairly exorbitant food prices. And now they don’t have to. Instacart, Prime Now, and others will now drop groceries off at your hotel room/suite, and reports are surfacing of families saving hundreds of dollars on food by having it dropped off at the front desk.
That’s great news for anyone looking to save, but honestly it wouldn’t be surprising if certain park operators figured out a way to put a stop to this since it could mean losing significant revenue for the parks.
There hasn’t been any indication of that yet, and maybe it’s overly cynical. It does, however, highlight just how many changes they may have to make in order to accommodate consumer demand without sacrificing business needs. At the end of the day, after all, these parks want and need guests wandering contentedly around their world and not at the Albertsons up the street. How about ordering groceries via an app and having a Voldemort robot deliver them? Sign me up for that any day.