New Year’s Resolutions for FECs
Ringing in the New Year, Funworld reconnected with family entertainment center (FEC) leaders who have shared their COVID-19 challenges and successes with the magazine in the past to find out what they’ve learned and what New Year’s resolutions they’ve set to apply those lessons in 2022.
How FECs Coped During COVID-19
After the twin shocks of unexpected shutdowns and reopening restrictions hit home, FECs accepted these unprecedented challenges and found ways to work through them.
When the doors were closed, Florida’s three HeadPinz Entertainment Center locations focused on retaining and protecting their staff.
“We kept them busy with several renovation and modernization projects,” says HeadPinz Owner and President Pat Cinello. “We also set up weekly food distributions for our staffers. Speaking of staff, we made a serious push to monetarily take care of those who stayed with us, including bonus plans for managers and ‘weekend warrior’ pay for our hourly employees—as much as $2 more per hour.”
The Entertainment and Education Group (TEEG)—which is based in Singapore and operates Timezone FECs in Australia, New Zealand, Southeast Asia, and India—also took the opportunity to invest in its 5,200 teammates, according to TEEG Group CEO Sonaal Chopra.
“Focused training programs were conducted several times a week, whether as a refresher or to gain new knowledge,” Chopra says. “Our ‘Fun Squads’ were not only kept busy but managed to upskill themselves and improve on processes that would ultimately enhance the guest experience.”
When the pandemic shut down all 14 U.S. locations of John’s Incredible Pizza, managers used the pause to take a fresh look at operations, says Brad Jashinsky, the company’s director of marketing and sales.
“One big change we made, as a result of our fresh look, was to add more payment kiosks and other technology,” Jashinsky explains. “This allowed us to repurpose staff to other areas when we reopened.”
With two locations in the Atlanta area, Sparkles Family Fun Centers have been offering roller skating and arcade fun to clients since 1959.
“At the beginning of COVID-19, we were shut down like everyone else,” says Sparkles President Ava Couey, who owns these FECs, along with Jeff Couey and Jacob Thompson. “We lost 75% of our staff but were able to maintain all our full-time employees. During the downtime, we did repairs and remodeling on our playground, café, thermostats, and LED outdoor parking lights. Jody Barrilleaux Barrio redid our painted artwork, and we deep cleaned throughout the facility.”
Once the shutdowns eased and restriction-based reopenings were allowed, these FECs committed themselves to working with the new rules. In doing so, they learned lessons in bringing their FECs back to life within this strange new business environment.
“We focused on making the guests comfortable and contoured with our local health authorities that license us in each jurisdiction,” says Philip Kaplan, chairman and CEO of GameWorks and its five U.S. locations. “We put in place friendly reminder signage, distanced tables, made entrances and exits one-way, put GameWorks-branded masks on teammates, put sanitation stations in many places, and tried to create a positive environment for guests and teammates.”
Today, GameWorks continues to apply these “lessons of constant adaptability.”
“As requirements change, we change in a particular location,” Kaplan says. “As vaccines have become widely available, we created a compa-ny-funded employee incentive to get vaccinated. Operationally, we greatly reduced our cost structure to bring the level of revenue needed for profit-ability down. We also added layers of automation and touchless guest features, like game card kiosks.
HeadPinz has also embraced this new reality.
“Once we reopened, we fully complied with the restrictions in place,” Cinello says. “We also reduced our hours of operations and simplified our food and beverage offerings. All of these efforts are meant to keep our doors open for our staff and customers.”
At John’s Incredible Pizza, the information technology team developed an all-you-can-eat “Endless Menu” mobile ordering app, where guests or-der food through their phone and have it delivered by a server.
“Guests were able to enjoy all-you-can-eat dining in a new way,” Jashinsky says.
TEEG learned not just to live with COVID-19-imposed challenges, but to integrate these solutions into their FECs’ daily routines.
“We have successfully embraced the situation as the new way of doing business, at least in the short term, and we have included restrictions and temporary shutdowns into our standard processes in operations,” Chopra says. “Marketing teams have also included snap-lockdown guest communications and quick reopening tactics into their strategies. In general, our teams have successfully revised and implemented new processes and initiatives to make the best of the present situation.”
New Year’s Resolutions
The knowledge these FECs have gained during two years of COVID-19 have shaped their 2022 New Year’s resolutions for operating their properties more efficiently, safely, and profitably.
“Our New Year’s resolution is to bump up our digital touchpoints,” Chopra says about TEEG’s FECs. “Offering great guest experiences in venue is one thing, but being able to deliver a great guest experience outside of venues, predominantly via online channels, is an absolute must. We had to scale up very quickly while our venues were temporarily closed, and while we’ve focused tremendously on this area, we have plans to make it even better, to provide a seamless guest experience, offline and online.”
John’s Incredible Pizza has several New Year’s resolutions on the books for 2022.
“A big focus for us this year is on improving recruiting, onboarding, and training,” Jashinsky says. “We have had many new team members join us since reopening, but, like the rest of the industry, we continue to have more roles to fill in this tight labor market. This is why we have streamlined our application and interviewing process with more improvements planned in the coming months.”
Wooing back customers is another New Year’s (and ongoing) priority for John’s Incredible Pizza.
“During the closure, our team developed our first free loyalty program called My John’s Rewards,” Jashinsky explains. “We have been focusing on growing the number of members in that program and rewarding multiple visits instead of flash promos. That will continue to be a focus in 2022. We are planning to explore more limited-time menu and event offerings in 2022 to give guests more reasons to get out of the house and come visit.”
Sparkles also has a number of New Year’s resolutions, which Couey lists off one by one. “Increased starting pay for all positions,” she says. “Hiring and maintaining quality staff. Adding items to our menu in our full-service café to bring in higher revenue, along with our full-service bar. And we always want to continue to do outside events because we feel like this is a way to reach so many people in our community.”
As for GameWorks? It looks to continue embracing streamlined operations, self-service features, and a reduced dining menu.
“We lost surprisingly few people and will continue to add to our team benefits to attract and retain talent, given that labor shortages will likely continue for the foreseeable future,” Kaplan says.
Finally, HeadPinz’s Cinello has just one New Year’s resolution, but it is as all-encompassing as it is simple.
“Rule No. 1: Be flexible,” he declares. “We must be able to adapt to ever-changing regulations, expectations, and ‘new norms.’”