5 Trends Reshaping Waterpark F&B in 2023

Alex Bialek

December 16, 2022

Waterpark foodservice is in the midst of major transformation. Between contactless facility requirements and shifting customer preferences, the past two years for waterparks have been highlighted by navigating tremendous change, seeking out the best-fit processes around F&B, and making it all work for both guests and foodservice staff.

Technology has played no small part in how waterpark foodservice is meeting new guest expectations (and navigating other newfound challenges). Cashless systems are providing parks with faster ways to serve guests, simpler ways to deliver guest experiences, and ensure total F&B staff accountability.

Having helped dozens of amusement and hospitality properties implement guest-facing technologies these past years, here are the top five trends we’ve discussed firsthand with foodservice operators at their properties, large and small.

1) Contactless Payments Are Taking Lead

It’s official: cash is no longer king (physical cash, that is).

A recent joint study by Cantaloupe and Michigan State University projects that, in 2023, more than two thirds of all transactions will be contactless. A growing percentage of consumers are moving away from dollar bills, and towards their credit cards and phone’s digital wallset for everyday in-person payments. Consumer preference for cash-free payment methods has soared over the past two years, with “convenience” and “speed” being the top reasons according to Fit Small Business.

For waterpark operators, these trends signify the importance of having all on-property food outlets fitted with the right payment technology, including card readers and NFC payment devices. With the rise of contactless payments, waterpark food outlets must be capable of meeting heightened consumer expectations around speed and ease of transactions conducted at the walk-up window. Additionally, by accepting contactless payments, F&B operations can thrive with better data capture on not just all items sold, but also concrete metrics on queue times and even order fulfillment.

By ensuring a consistently quick experience in how your property accepts payments at your point of sale terminals, that is the first checkbox to foodservice operational success.

2) Faster Services Without Sacrificing Quality

So, if speed is becoming ever-increasingly the expectation of consumers, how can parks maintain a high quality standard for their burgers and hot dogs?

Peak demand hours – i.e. lunchtime – are certain. Demand creates longer lines. To account for periods of high transactions, waterparks are deploying smarter ways to manage food area queues and communicate wait times to their guests.

For walkup food outlets, queue management begins with order routing. When your outlets are busiest, can you shift your staffing focus to order-takers (more about this in section 5)? Striking the right balance between front-line and kitchen worker assignments will enable your F&B teams to operate as an effective unit. If your staff are well-trained and organized, they will be able to maximize their output and ensure guests’ orders are taken care of at the highest quality.

Jumping back to the customer experience, evaluate in what ways you can communicate current order ETAs and wait times with your guests. Instead of requiring all guests to wait in a physical line, many waterparks have begun deploying their own mobile ordering services for grab-and-go pickup that displays current wait time.

Not only can guests order and pay instantly from a mobile ordering menu – they are also provided the approximate order ETA, given current demand at the stand. Platforms like FanFood enable regionally-focused waterparks and attractions to provide guests with a Disney park-like mobile ordering experience, at a fraction of the cost with a customizable, plug and play solution.

3) QR Codes For More Convenient Cabana Ordering

Traditionally, cabana foodservice has involved roaming servers overseeing multiple cabana areas. To avoid instances of stretching staff thin and hindering guest experience, waterparks have begun deploying QR code-based ordering at their cabanas.

To request food or drinks, cabana guests simply scan a cabana-specific QR code that is tied to their delivery location. Guests can browse the menu, make selections, and pay right from their smartphone. The guest can even see their order status and receive instant text notifications when it arrives.

Digital tipping and gratuities are the icing-on-cake for QR code-based mobile ordering within waterpark cabanas. Servers enjoy how the orders populate automatically to their tablet and provide them with the delivery location. See how the process has worked at one Texas-based waterpark in our case study, here.

4) Kitchen and Inventory Management Are Your Backbone

Cleanliness and organization is not only your customer’s expectations – it also facilitates a better and more productive working environment for your team members to do their jobs well.

Ensuring each food outlet has an optimal layout enables your staff to maximize their efficiency during busy service hours. The positioning of counters, shelves, and sanitation stations can ensure timely order preparation or re-stocking throughout your facility’s service hours. Product sales data from the past season may also assist you when evaluating your current food outlets’ arrangements, and what adjustments can be improved to achieve greater kitchen efficiency.

From your coolers and ice cream carts to dry inventory, optimizing your food storage setup can help you prevent food waste. To achieve this, waterparks are investing in (or, continuing to optimize) their inventory management solutions to further standardize their re-ordering processes and mitigate risks of product shortages.

5) Preparedness for Staffing Variability Determines Success

For many waterparks and amusement properties, foodservice staffing has been a particular challenge over recent seasons; having enough trained staff on-hand to adequately serve all customers throughout the park’s daily operations is a demanding task.

Thus, how flexible and responsive your operation can be to scenarios of being understaffed can help you mitigate the effects of a lower headcount. Start by understanding your exact staff count of order takers versus food preppers and cooks: do either of these present a noticeable challenge in scheduling as you review your roster?

If you’re facing shortages of food prep staff, you’ll have to evaluate your park’s menu offerings. Consider what tweaks can reasonably be made to your food and drink lineup, like which stands or locations are stocked to prepare and sell which items. This is a balancing act in itself, which can be decided by weighting your past season’s daily customer count against the number of specific items sold.

If order takers are the challenge (ie, the number of walkup windows you can operate), you need to assign food outlets based on historic demand; what does your past year’s sales data tell you about food outlets that receive the highest daily order volume? Having more windows open there can ensure the food outlet is able to minimize the wait time for guests, versus another food outlet that isn’t typically as busy.

Digital ordering platforms, like mobile ordering, can also make it easier for your staff to handle upticks in demand. Routing orders to a digital queue can reduce the need for customers to wait in a physical line while your staff prepares the orders – rather, the guests can see that their order will be ready in 20 minutes.


Navigating change doesn’t have to be daunting for waterparks and their staff. A methodical approach and strategy makes all the difference in finding success with contactless systems and day-to-day management. 

Bottom line: technology can be an instrumental ally to you and your waterpark’s staff. It should never just be about having technology for the sake of it – rather, properties must focus on what tangible outcomes and process improvements that the technology can help their operations achieve, and then measure against those goals upon implementation.

We’re excited to see how foodservice at waterparks and other amusement properties will continue to thrive with the help of new technologies. Having the right partner who is invested in your success is a game changer. If you’re looking for a great platform provider for mobile or cabana ordering, don’t hesitate to get in touch with us ahead of next season!

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