Why are so many Merlin food outlets closed?

Closed food outlets (image: TowersStreet)

It has been a scene familiar to many a Merlin Entertainments theme park visitor for many years – closed food outlets.

But since the post-lockdown reopenings of their parks in July, the number of closed units appears to have grown considerably.

This has particularly been the case this week, as parks entered their first weekdays of opening since schools returned.

There were scores of outlets closed at Alton Towers this week, but what is the business logic behind this approach?

On the face of it, you would be forgiven for thinking it is a financial no-brainer to serve people food and drink as rapidly as possible.

But this is not necessarily the case when you are competing with yourself – as Merlin is.

Remember that their food and drink offerings are now almost entirely in-house since the dispatch of KFC, Burger and Pizza Hut over the years.

Closed food outlet (image: TowersStreet)
Numerous food outlets were closed at Alton Towers this week (image: TowersStreet)

If Merlin bosses have crunched some numbers, they might have calculated that it is better for business to keep people waiting that little bit longer.

If for example there are 12 kiosks open and people have to wait an average of 10 minutes to be served, then opening 24 kiosks to halve people’s waiting time might double your costs for no other benefit.

Balancing act

It’s also worth remembering the significant number of guests holding Merlin’s annual passes, which come with a 20% discount on food and drink in the parks.

If pass-holders are perceiving themselves as getting a good deal, then they might be prepared to wait that little bit longer – and are probably well used to the queues by now.

Of course there is still a balancing act between keeping operating costs as low as possible, while at the same time maintaining revenue.

People looking in despair at – or stuck in – queues may not decide to avoid buying food at the park there and then, but next time they visit they might bring their own food, eat before and/or shorten their visit to the park.

Guests more disgruntled could also complain about their experience, or even not return to the park at all.

And in a world where TripAdvisor and Facebook reviews wield huge amounts of influence and are capable of harming businesses considerably, the closing of food outlets is certainly a careful tightrope walk for theme parks.

It all comes down to a simple question for park bosses: How big a queue can we get away with?

Special thanks to the TowersStreet team for kindly providing their photographs taken this week.