Volume 1, Issue 32
By Angel Zobel-Rodriguez
Any proprietor will tell you that league lineage itself doesn't generate the income to cover a bowling center's expenses. That's why the bar, the restaurant or snack bar, the game room, and other amenities become crucial to a center's survival.
So why is it that the food they offer in the snack bars is often so atrocious? I know there are a dwindling number of centers that still have sit-down restaurants, but so many of the chain centers have opted to call a deep-fat fryer and a soda fountain a "snack bar" that I've gotten in the habit of eating fast food in my car on the way. I'm not an enemy of snack bars, but given the prices and the quality of the food at the snack bars, I can always get a better deal that tastes better down the street.
Years ago I bowled a handicap evening league, finishing around 10 or so every week. Large groups of us would pack up, caravan over to Denny's, and (back in the days when calories didn't count) order up late-night meals, snacks, and lavish desserts. It's not that the snack bar didn't have these items, but the seating was bad (in some houses it's nonexistent), and they always closed up before we finished bowling. Most houses do that now. I'm always in my approach when they announce "the snack bar will be closing in 10 minutes."
So where are these bowlers going to break bread and enjoy themselves? Elsewhere. The money that they are willing to spend is lining the pockets of any number of sit-down restaurants that stay open. Denny's, Cocos, Friendly's, and many more national and regional restaurants come to mind.
I am well aware that franchise costs are too high for most centers, but at the very least, what about creating a restaurant that people seriously consider frequenting, and not just on their bowling night? The added bonus of the franchise restaurants would be the name recognition, and the potential for nonbowlers to "drop by." On the busy nights at the restaurant, a family puts their name on the waiting list to dine, and walks into the bowling center to kill time until their name is called. This is a family who may not have been to this center, and now they have walked into it. It's not that grungy image that still permeates with nonbowlers--in an instant the house has created a potential new customer base. After the meal they might even consider bowling.
Is it too much for a 6 PM league to expect food that has some nutritional value or the semblance of home cooking? It's hard enough to leave work in time to bowl, it's even worse to starve until 9 because a bowler happens to think that a real plate and silverware isn't too much to ask.
Now some centers just don't have the space to do anything more than the snack bar they already have, but what about making it more friendly to patrons? Offer at least one lowfat item (and please explain to the staff that a tuna fish sandwich drowned in mayonnaise is NOT lowfat). The women in my noon league opt to bring yogurt and go home to eat afterward, rather than their traditional pre-league meal, because the food is just not the same.
Some convenience stores have teamed up with fast food places to offer limited menus in a small space, but the food is the same as at the chain and the pricing is comparable. I'd even go for that. The day I paid $5 at a snack bar for a grilled cheese, fries, and a soda--all a la carte--was the last day I ate a meal at that center.
But it's not just about price. I am willing to pay market price, if I am getting the same quality. I was joking with someone just the other night that if a bowling center got smart, they'd try to acquire a coffee house franchise. Considering how quickly people are dropping $3-4 on a cup of coffee, the profits here are much greater than on alcohol, without all the permits and restrictions. After bowling every week, I find myself holding a double-cupped, steamed, frothy beverage, or an iced drink, and I don't think twice of the cost. This is more revenue the center is losing because what they call coffee tastes like dark water, and that sprinkly stuff called "coffee whitener" scares me. Starbucks is the winner here, when I would happily support such a venue within my center.
So it's a new year, and it's a new set of dreams for me. But I mean it when I say, I will bowl league at the first center in my area that brings in a decent family restaurant. It'll save me the trouble of another stop on the way, and I can always bring nonbowlers there and show them my world.