September 13, 2023

The Best Birthday Party….EVER!

This is a claim that many FEC’s make.  What makes your parties special and unique?  This is one of the most important days of your kids’ year.  As a parent, you want to make it the best party ever.  As a parent myself, I understand how important this day is.  You really want your kid to feel special, and there really is a bit of a competitive nature about birthday parties at school.  “Well, Jill’s parents rented a suite at a hotel, and there was a juggler, ponies, etc.  What are we going to do for MY birthday, MOM?”  There is a lot of pressure on both the kids and the parents to create an above-and-beyond experience.  What are we doing in the entertainment industry to help parents ease that pressure?  Have you educated your staff on what these parents are feeling in terms of pressure and expectations when they are booking these parties?  Many younger staff who do not have kids are not aware of how these parents are feeling or how to react to these feelings and guests.

Selling the Experience, Not Just the Attractions

From what I’ve noticed, the experience we provide comes from our staff more than the actual attractions.  Several years back, at an IAAPA seminar, I remember someone discussing the analogy of if there were 2 FEC’s next to each other and one had all the latest, greatest games, equipment, and attractions, yet a boring or subpar staff and the second FEC had older and fewer attractions but an engaging staff, many people would likely visit the first FEC. Still, many more would visit and return to the second FEC.  That return visit is enormous.  As a smaller player in the scheme of entertainment options, in most markets, FEC’s rely heavily on return visits.  I think many forget that we aren’t selling our attractions.  We are selling an experience, and it’s our people that make the experience.  So, what can we do to enhance the experience with parties?  Party Games!!!

The Power of Party Games: Engaging Staff and Happy Parents

I know what some of you are thinking…” ugh, these kids want their game cards and don’t want to play a stupid party game.”  I know you think that because I used to think that, and I had seen that look in my staff’s eyes when I told them to play a game with the kids.  I thought that until one night when my friend Sheryl Bindelglass of Sheryl Golf, Inc. was visiting my center and helping me out.  She showed me a game called “Stuff It,” where kids (and adults) stuff balloons up oversized shirts that 2 of the kids wear.  I thought that no kid would want to play this game.  Sheryl caught this family as they were checking out at Redemption.  She asked them if they wanted to play a quick game.  At first, they were pretty disinterested.  The parents looked exhausted and tapped out, and the kids just wanted their prizes.  But in Sheryl’s way, she convinced them to play.  Once they started playing, the kids and staff got into the game, but what was more was the expression on the parent’s faces changed.  They not only started to smile and enjoy watching this fiasco of balloons, but they also wanted to get pictures of it. 

I required my staff to play games with the kids every day after that day.  The sillier, the better.  Stuff It is still one of my favorite games to this day.  There are many other fun games out there for all different age groups.  We like an app called Heads Up, which is a type of charades game.  There is another game called Cookie Face, where kids try to move a cookie from their forehead to their mouth without using their hands.  There are tons of places that you can get game ideas from.  There is the internet, of course.  You can find many minute-to-win-it type games and other quick but fun and engaging games. 

The Magic of Flexibility: Creating Personalized Experiences

Ensure your staff has an arsenal of games and is flexible enough to change directions on a dime.  I have yet to see any one party run the same way, so one of the critical qualities of a great party host is how to read customers and how to be flexible with their schedule and their plans to create an experience that caters to the guests, not to an arbitrary program.  Once, I had a new party host, and we had decided before the party arrived that we would play the Cookie Face game.  When the birthday boy showed up, we saw he was disabled, and his face was physically deformed.  This would have been a better game for this party, so we changed direction on a dime and played a different game.  We were prepared and did this so seamlessly that the family and kids didn’t notice. 

Going Above and Beyond: Unique Activities to Make Your Party Stand Out

What else can you do to set your parties apart?  We gave each party kid a special shirt with our logo on it for a while.  Sure, many places do this, but we took it to the next level and turned it into an activity.  We created a tie-dye station at our entrance, and it was an activity that the party host and the guest of honor would do while awaiting other guests to arrive.  We gave them a white shirt with our logo and found a spray-on tie dye so any kid could do it without a big mess.  By the end of the party, their shirt was ready for them to take, and it was always presented to them when the bill was introduced.  I loved seeing those shirts all over town; the kids loved making them.  We had many people ask to make a shirt, but we decided to keep that as a particular activity only for kids who booked a party with us.  By doing this, we encouraged more booked parties and fewer walk-in parties.  I also kept a stack of pre-encoded cards with me and would give out free game cards if I saw a kid wearing a birthday shirt in the wild.   

We also built a large birthday wheel with a platform.  The kids loved to spin the wheel.  We used this time to sing a little birthday chant to them.  If you are new to the business, please be aware that the traditional Happy Birthday song is Copywritten, so you will need to develop a different song for these events.  We also put the wheel out where everyone could see and join our celebration. 

Candy Bar Bar: An Interactive Activity and Upsell

There are tons of great ideas that you can find on Pinterest or even at trade shows in networking with other owners and operators.  Another great idea is a Candy Bar Bar.  Yes, that’s not a typo.  Set up a cart with many different types of candy, and each kid gets a small bag, which they can fill with whatever kind of candy they want.  This is an interactive activity for the kids and a great upsell.  Candy is cheap, and kids love it.  It’s a great idea as a substitute for the traditional gift bag with a bunch of junk that the kids don’t really want.     

Creative Ideas to Wow Your Guests: Pizza Cones and Punch Piñatas

Other ideas I’ve seen include Make Your Own Pizza Cones as an activity and meal or a punch piñata as a fun activity/upsell.  The punch piñata is excellent as it has many different holes that the kids can punch their hand through the tissue to get a prize, but there is no swinging a dangerous stick. And everyone gets a turn, and everyone gets prizes.

Creating Lasting Memories: The Key to Repeat Business

Many creative ways exist to make your parties stand out and help parents give their kids the best party ever.  You need to think outside the box, do your research and planning, and make sure you have the best-trained staff that is flexible, prepared, and can communicate well, as that will make more of a difference to how parents and kids perceive the party went than any other thing in your center.  Remember, even if you don’t have the greatest, newest attractions, your guests will return….or they won’t, based on the experience that your staff provides.

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Amber Lambert

Amber Lambert is the Regional Sales Representative for Betson Enterprises. She began her career in the amusement industry 12 years ago when she started her own family entertainment center she built from the ground up. She also managed a corporate-owned family entertainment center, held a sales role with an industry supplier, and is active in industry associations.