How do bowling alleys actually make a profit?


It’s Friday night at your favorite bowling alley, and the sounds of joyous laughter are accompanied by bright lights and blaring music that adds a colorful and vibrant touch to the atmosphere!  We share a similar social love for frequenting our favorite bowling alleys, if this sounds familiar to you! 

Their ability to create an enjoyable atmosphere often determines their success and how profitable they are in the long term. Allow me to show you exactly how this is done and whether it would be a good investment for you. 

In addition to offering shoes, balls, and lanes for rent, bowling alleys can offer other entertainment services and food. The food and beverage departments of bowling alleys generate a significant portion of the income. Each lane at an average bowling alley can make $36,750 annually.

Whether your curiosity got the better of you or you’re looking to make a long-term investment yourself, let’s take a look at some very eye-opening details about bowling alleys that you wouldn’t believe!

How Do Bowling Alleys Actually Make Money?

“Bowling is the ideal sport. It’s basically an hour of drinking beer occasionally interrupted by six seconds of exercise”.

If you consider all the things you enjoy about your favorite bowling alley, you’ll have a good idea of how they make money. In the same way, we are suckers for consuming snacks while watching a movie or our favorite Netflix series, and bowling alleys deploy the same tactic to reel us in and bowl us over. 

Since bowling alleys are a place for social gatherings, their services include food, drink, shoes, balls, lanes for rent, and entertainment such as arcades. The majority of their profits come from these sources, and the more enjoyable the experience for the bowler, the more willing they will be to spend. 

Apart from the material aspects, put a greater emphasis on customer service. Hire employees who actually like bowling and interacting with the patrons you serve. It is good practice to pay attention to how employees engage with patrons and encourage them to offer their thoughts via comment cards.

Getting customers into a bowling alley means marketing itself. If a bowling alley already exists, then marketing is more effortless. If it already has a brand, people will likely come to it naturally. It is especially true if they are known for hosting competitions where professional players frequent. 

Employ a multi-media strategy that includes newspaper advertisements, flyers, and social media. Emphasize special bowling times, league play, or any other elements that will attract a broader audience to your business.

Marketing via social media, radio advertising, or their website is a great way to bring in new bowlers. Specifically, using social channels has the benefit of spreading through word of mouth. 

It’s also essential that bowling alleys target families and league bowlers and young adults, business owners, the elderly, and any other influential groups in their community. They might offer different events or special deals for each group, such as senior discounts and singles bowling nights.

Ideally, bowling alleys should be located in communities with an average household income of over $100,000. The bowling alley should be proportional to the local community.

Are Bowling Alleys A Good Investment?

Bowling alleys that are well-run have an average of 12,000 to 15,000 games per lane per year, while chain-operated bowling alleys average 9,250 games. 

Each bowling game typically costs $2.00, and each $1.00 of bowling revenue that an alley sees also results in approximately $0.67 of non-bowling income, such as shoe rentals and food sales. 

In this scenario, if a bowling alley has an average of 11,000 lines, it will make about $36,750 for every single lane.

As with every business decision, opening a bowling alley requires careful planning. For better preparation, consider asking these questions concerning cash flow, real estate, equipment, and valuations:

Does The Purchase Include Real Estate?

  • It would be wise to determine whether the bowling alley is leased or owned before evaluating its financial situation. It may be necessary to ask the current occupant if they are interested in selling the real estate and, if so, how much rent will be per month.

Is Equipment Included In A Bowling Alley Purchase?

  • A lot of bowling equipment—especially bowling ball return machines, bumpers, pinsetters, and automated scoring systems—is costly. Discuss with the current owner what assets are included in the sale.

What Expenses Are Involved In Running A Bowling Alley?

  • Obtaining an estimate of the cost of running your alley by asking the current owner about their current expenses is one of the best ways to do so. These expenses may include staffing costs, lane and ball maintenance, electricity, cleaning supplies, and food and drink.

How Did The Owner Determine The Value Of The Bowling Alley?

  • A final fundamental question you will need to ask the current owner is, “How did you arrive at your asking price?” Preparing yourself with this information will give you more bargaining power and help you make a more informed purchase. 

How Much Does It Cost To Run A Bowling Alley?

To obtain and maintain a bowling alley license, you’ll need to get several different permits and licenses. Additionally, you must obtain a liquor license and a food handling permit to operate a bowling alley.

It is imperative if you consider that the majority of their income is derived from food and drink! The bowling alley will also need a general business license, sales tax permit, and employer identification number to keep its doors open.

Insurance is another essential key aspect to ensuring the longevity of a bowling alley. There are specific insurance policies that bowling allies would be particularly interested in, namely:

  • General liability insurance
  • Commercial property insurance
  • Worker’s compensation insurance

Suppose a customer is injured while on a business’s property; the general liability policy will protect the company. The policy can help pay for medical and legal expenses.

Commercial property insurance can cover the business’ equipment and building if they are damaged or destroyed in a fire, for example.

Worker’s compensation insurance protects the company by covering legal and medical expenses if an employee is injured on the job.

Insurance premiums will vary depending on the location of the firm, the value of its structure and equipment, and a variety of other considerations. 

Get quotes from multiple insurance providers to get the most accurate sense of what to budget for insurance. Examine how the premiums, coverage limitations, exclusions, and deductibles compare when comparing bids.

Multiple personnel is required to staff bowling alleys. The average annual salary for bowling alley employees, according to PayScale, is:

  • General/operations manager: $49,000
  • Mechanic/pinsetter: $32,000
  • Food and beverage manager: $48,000
  • Cashier: $25,000

A general/operations manager is essential to ensuring that every aspect of the bowling alley remains functional and that the revenue flows in seamlessly and without any hiccups. 

Having experience in the sector, whether as a bowler or as a bowling alley employee, can be beneficial because an in-depth understanding of the game, alley operations, and more is an invaluable tool for a successful bowling alley.

Whether you do it yourself or hire someone, a mechanic/pinsetter is vital in ensuring that maintenance is done on all the bowling machinery. 

Regardless of the reasons, make sure you have a plan in place because lanes that aren’t in use don’t generate any revenue, and it’s vital to have them open on weekends. Food, beverages, and creativity have always gone hand-in-hand. 

Unique themes or offerings, such as special event nights or food choices that customers won’t find at other bowling alleys, are among the most successful bowling alley enterprises. When it comes to enhancing the bowling alley and making deals that will appeal to clients, creativity is crucial.

A business’ budget should also include employee-related expenses such as paid time off, health insurance payments, and worker’s compensation insurance in addition to salaries.

One of the most significant expenses that should always be a priority is advertising! Advertise your fast-food restaurant on local television stations during programming slots that reach your target demographic if your budget permits. 

Advertise in local newspapers or coupon booklets. Create contests on your website to keep people engagedand coming back. To incentivize repeat customers, offer loyalty reward programs such as card punches for free or discounted meals or “extras.”

The 5 Most Successful Bowling Alleys In The U.S.

1.    Rock ‘n Bowl — New Orleans

This legendary restaurant in the Big Easy dates back to 1941 and offers live bands every night; and is known for patrons dancing between the lanes. 

Rock ‘n’ Bowl is also notable for being the country’s only bowling alley that grinds its own chuck. The menu includes Bayou favorites like shrimp remoulade and fried bread pudding po’boy in addition to burgers and fries.

It’s no secret that the rich New Orleans culture offered to the locals and travelers is what makes Rock ‘n Bowl such a staggering success. It has mastered the art of customer service by carefully crafting an atmosphere that all its customers love, and so they cannot help but come back a second time! 

Interacting with customers is a huge part of owning a bowling alley. A bowling alley with a strong focus on interpersonal skills can make meaningful connections to encourage customers to return.

It may come as a no-brainer, but hiring the right staff is the most crucial part of guaranteeing a revenue stream. Bowling alleys should hire employees who like bowling and interacting with the patrons who are served.

Furthermore, improving the appearance of a bowling alley is the key to grabbing the attention of any patron. A freshly added coat of paint and a thorough cleaning will dramatically improve the appearance. 

2.    The Goodnight — Austin, Texas

The Goodnight, known for its pet-friendly deck, formal lounges, and private karaoke room, is moving to a new Austin location that will include a “new menu, tablet scoring, virtual reality, karaoke, and more.” 

Let’s hope the new location recreates the former location’s iconic mural of characters from “The Big Lebowski” and “Kingpin.”

Relocating can be troublesome, but The Goodnight knows the importance of being situated in a prime location so that they can be easily accessible. It is a significant factor that contributes to their successes.

If you wanted to go to your favorite clothing store that was 20 miles away, but you could only get there by walking, how much longer would it remain your favorite clothing store?

In their own words, The Goodnight strove to strike the perfect balance between regal and revelry. 

Vintage bowling lanes, billiards tables, El Jefe (their mechanical bull), ping-pong tables, hoops, hockey, skeeball lanes, shuffleboard, Zoltar fortune-telling, and a private karaoke room are just a few of the activities available for patrons to enjoy. 

For a more intimate time with that special someone, patrons have the option of spending time at The Regal, a pleasant dining room with views of their Brazilian wrap-around bar, two elevated lounges, a private banquet area, and a beautiful pet-friendly terrace.

The success of The Goodnight lies in its sheer amount of variety and activities that cater to every socialite’s need, regardless of age. It has even proven to be inclusive to our beloved animal companions!  

Some people consider pets as part of the family, so having the option to bring them along to social gatherings or any other reasons is a fantastic feature. That being said, make sure you don’t forget to fetch them again from the animal facilities!

3.    J.B.’s on 41 — Milwaukee

J.B.’s is one of the thousands of bowling alleys around the United States, and its attractions, such as glow bowling and special effects lighting, appeal to both kids and adults.

On weekends, it has a nightlife vibe, a large arcade (“The Speed Zone”), and 25 Milwaukee-themed lanes with lightweight bowling balls, dragon ramps, and automatic bumpers. 

If you consider yourself a sports enthusiast and want to try your hand at something new, this is the place to do it. J.B.’s hosts a summer volleyball league in its volleyball pavilion. J.B.’s secret to success lies in its capability to boast numerous attractions perfect for every area of life. 

Patrons constantly return to play games at the arcade, participate in open bowling, league bowling, activities, events, leagues, community events and fundraisers, company parties and birthday parties, and even their own volleyball league – you name it, they have it! 

They pride themselves on being a “family fun center with something for everyone,” and they are 100% smoke and vape-free, too. To bring this point home, they make it clear that safe fun is their priority.

Its lounges are equipped with big T.V.s and mouth-watering food specials for all sports lovers. 

Furthermore, they have incentivized their services with a J.B.’s Summer Punchpass, which allows patrons to enjoy all the best that J.B.’s has to offer. 

It is a great stance to focus on considering its appeal to families. It’s no surprise that J.B.’s is one of the most popular bowling alleys in its community, and it plans to remain that way with its ever-expanding interests. 

4.    The Alley — Charleston, South Carolina

The alley describes itself as “not simply a bowling alley.” It is a beautiful trip down memory lane for many patrons who frequent its doors. 

In addition to its eight bowling lanes, The Alley provides artisan beers, throwback 1970s arcade games, and two 160-inch projection T.V.s in three bars (one of which is made of repurposed bowling wood). If the bowling league doesn’t appeal to you, you might try your luck in the ping-pong league.

The alley is also an excellent venue for hosting office parties or kids’ birthday parties. 

As for their menu, they serve a wide variety of irresistible foods that is sure to bring a smile to any face! Spring rolls, Wings, Sliders, Chip and Dip, and Nachos are just some of the great options they offer. 

The food options are local favorites, and they have been specifically chosen to complement the bowling alley in all its areas—the patrons at the bar or the kids at the arcade. The bowling alley has done a great job in ensuring that they understand what their patrons enjoy and fulfilling those hungering desires. 

5.    Brooklyn Bowl — Brooklyn, New York

The wind-powered Brooklyn Bowl, a combination concert venue, restaurant, and bowling alley in Brooklyn’s Williamsburg area, is also regarded as the world’s first LEED-certified bowling alley.

Bowlers can relax on the alley’s leather Chesterfield sofas in between games on the alley’s 16 lanes.

Furthermore, the Bowler’s Lounge provides a bird’s-eye view of the musical acts. Guns N’ Roses, Kanye West, M.I.A., and Snoop Dogg are among the artists who have performed there. Rolling Stone recognized it to be one of the most magnificent places on earth.

Their choice of foods is more modernized, with food options including French bread pizza, salads and bowls, ribs, smoked wings, and mouth-watering appetizers that are sure to make you go back for seconds. 

Furthermore, as a bonus, they also offer choices for vegetarians, vegans, and gluten-free foods. 

Whether you’re celebrating, entertaining colleagues, or tying the knot, they’ve got your back! Take up the entire venue for you and up to 900 of your closest friends while they’re open for a concert or rent bowling lanes while they’re available for a show.

Brooklyn Bowl is the perfect place for any New Yorker, and they would feel right at home at the hustle and bustle of its never-ending events and social and communal activities. 

Is Bowling A Popular Sport In The U.S.?

The short answer to this question is yes. Even though bowling was believed to have decreased in popularity in the last decade, studies show that it has starting to gain popularity once again! 

The bowling industry has risen significantly from $4 billion in 2014 to $10 billion in 2018. Bowling has grown in popularity in the United States, from 39 million bowlers in 2010 to 67 million in 2018, and is now one of the fastest-growing varsity sports. 

Bowling is enjoyed by 100 million individuals of all ages in over 80 countries.

It points to a very lucrative opportunity for those who love the sport, loves socializing and hosting others, and maybe considering the possibility of investing in their own bowling alley. 

It may be that advancements in technology have removed the need for people to meet face-to-face, thus drastically reducing the social interaction between people. Since humans are social creatures by nature, bowling is quite literally the perfect it. 

Millions of people get their social fill from bowling alleys, and the constant thrill and energy from having a great time with friends, family, and colleagues keep people coming back to do it all over again. 

The real attraction of bowling alleys lies in their integrated specialty services or amenities offered to its millions of patrons, which gives the bowling alley an edge in attracting consumers and increasing earnings. 

For example, they can consider offering higher-end dining or a bar instead of standard concession meals.

Combining a bowling alley with an arcade, go-carts, or other forms of entertainment might help to appeal to a broader audience and encourage families to spend more money by staying longer. 

Bowling alleys should create unique theme evenings and birthday party packages or organize a bowling league or other exciting competitions to promote return customers.

Conclusion 

When it comes to success, running a bowling alley business is similar to running any other form of business. People will want to do business with you again and again if you give them what they desire.

 It’s not only about the design of the bowling alley or how current the equipment is; it’s also about the setting and ambiance that draws people in.

Bowling alleys can be quite a profitable venture when carefully nurtured and given the time to grow into a social gathering known and loved by many!

So, the next time you take in the lovely atmosphere at your favorite bowling alley, be sure to enjoy it to its fullest!

Sources 

https://www.sunbeltnetwork.com/buying-a-business/buying-a-bowling-alley/

https://www.qubicaamf.com/plan-your-bowling-project/invest-in-bowling

https://howtostartanllc.com/business-ideas/bowling-alley

https://www.bowling.com/braden.aspx

https://smallbusiness.chron.com/make-bowling-alley-successful-24947.html

https://www.payscale.com/research/US/Industry=Bowling_Center/Salary

Tim C, M.D.

My grandfather and my mother both taught me bowling in the early 1970’s. I spent the next few decades working my way up to the top tiers of local amateur bowling leagues, and continued to participate in college at the club level. My wife and bowled in coed leagues before kids, and then taught our kids bowling as they grew up. Now I’m here to answer some of the web’s common questions about bowling rules, techniques, equipment and more. To see more about the site, check our About Page

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