By George McAuliffe
My wife and I went for a drive around the Jersey Shore on Sunday. It was a beautiful day and we’d been in the house for three weeks. As it happens, we both fell victim to the COVID-19 virus in late March. We had a rough week or so, but have been getting better every day for the last week.
So, with masks and gloves in hand we ventured out, not leaving the car. New Jersey has been particularly hard hit and is still under a stay-at-home advisory. We felt a little guilty, but justified it by our (probable) post-COVID unlikely-to-transmit-status and by staying in the car. We also wanted to patronize Starbucks and a favorite restaurant for contactless take out.
We weren’t the only ones. Car traffic, while down, was more robust than I expected and there were tons of people walking and riding bikes, especially by the ocean. I was especially surprised at how few were wearing masks (nearby New York –– where we get most of our news –– is under a mandatory mask-in-public rule).
How Soon Will They Be Back?
This made me think about our industry. Like many, I’ve wondered if and when traffic counts in arcades, family entertainment and bowling entertainment centers would get back up to pre-COVID normal. What I saw Sunday –– crowds of seemingly unconcerned people –– made me think perhaps we can get there sooner rather than later. Granted, I was observing outdoor activity on a beautiful spring day, but it might indicate people are ready to get as close to back-to-normal quicker than we might otherwise think.
I don’t want to minimize the danger. I wouldn’t want anyone to go through what we did, and ours was a mild case. However, if we can create safe environments and get that word out, we may be able to attract customers back sooner than we think (especially as testing capability and other countermeasures get up to par).
One other thought: Airline ticket sales are down 94% and many trade shows and conventions are postponed through the end of 2020. During the Great Recession, a new word was coined: “Staycation.” People traveled less and spent their leisure and vacation dollars locally. This helped minimize the economic impact of the recession on family entertainment centers. The best facilities marketed the concept. Will it be a feature of the post-COVID FEC economy?
It’s Gotta Be Safe (and We’ll Need to Sell that it’s Safe)!
There will have to be a new normal in facility hygiene and sanitation processes. Most importantly, those new processes will have to be a major part of the marketing program to convince customers that they can safely access the fun. There will need to be an element of “theater,” going out of your way to let the guests know what you are doing. Some examples:
- Portable handwashing stations (no plumbing required) inside entrance and strategically placed
- Mask dispensing stations or “masks available” policy
- Sanitizer stations throughout including lanes, laser tag vesting, VR attractions, etc.
- Sanitizer process as part of laser tag, VR, ride and attraction briefings
- All staff equipped with antiseptic cleaning spray bottles and paper towels maybe in “holsters”
- Heavy overnight cleaning/disinfecting of all surfaces and attractions
- Cleaning/disinfecting process after each party in party rooms
- Calculate “air replacement rate” of HVAC units and publicize or improve
- If you don’t yet have one, convert to a cashless debit card system
- Education and training program for all staff
- Social media and other marketing materials (internal/external) listing all hygiene steps
- Creative social distancing practices
The CDC has an excellent whitepaper with details and ideas on disinfecting for COVID-19. It can be found at
So, there are a few ideas and resources. Obviously, this adds significant additional costs and expenses, but can we afford not to? As we add up the bills, this would be a good time to find the wasted dollars on other line items. Pre-COVID times were pretty good. Good times tend to mean less-than-diligent attention to expense efficiency. The priority has to be getting our customers back and keeping them safe.