What's your advice for improving Knott's Berry Farm?
Published: November 4, 2011 at 2:26 PM
Southern California's other theme parks have left Knott's behind. In 1983, Knott's opened the theme park industry's first dedicated kids' land - Camp Snoopy. But today, if I'm looking for a great theme park experience made just for kids, I'm driving down the road to the much better Legoland California instead.
Knott's was once known for wilder thrill rides than neighboring Disneyland, but today, if I want to ride a great collection of roller coasters, I'll find a better time up at Six Flags Magic Mountain. My kids' friends even like California Screamin' at Disney California Adventure better than any coaster at Knott's.
Knott's trademark used to be fried chicken dinners - the best in Southern California. But the last time I visited Knott's, I had the fried chicken at Ghost Town Grill. It was inedible. The chicken's better in Mrs. Knott's original restaurant, but not enough to justify a trip to Buena Park. The best fried chicken in Southern California today is at Roscoe's House of Chicken and Waffles. I will fight people over this, BTW. ;^)
It looked better than it tasted.
So what's the "comparative advantage," as the business students say, that draws people to Knott's? Sad to say, today it's simply price. Knott's is the place local people and school groups go when they can't afford a day at Disneyland.
That's not enough to make people fall in love with a theme park.
How can Knott's recapture the hearts of theme park fans? Well, that's a question I'm going to pose to you today. You are invited to share your ideas for the park, or simply to share your thoughts on what makes you love visiting other parks. Is there anything Knott's could change, today, that would make it a more desirable place to visit? What sort of things would you like to see the park do, add, change or eliminate in the future?
First up, let me state again for the record that whenever I post an idea for a theme park on Theme Park Insider, I'm abandoning any ownership of the idea. Theme parks are welcome to take and implement any suggestion I make on this site, without compensation. I hate that creative designers at theme parks feel that they can't read fan discussions on the Internet for fear of being sued should they do something similar to what a fan suggested. So here's the rule at Theme Park Insider: Take our ideas, please. If you use something we suggest and want to be nice, I'm sure any of us would welcome a trip to the grand opening. But you don't need to do even that. We suggest things because we want to see them happen, not because we want to get paid. (And if you're not cool with that condition, just go ahead and keep your ideas to yourself then.)
Here's my suggestion: Knott's need to own food again. Make Knott's Berry Farm the best theme park for food in Southern California. The park should start by renovating Mrs. Knott's Chicken Dinner Restaurant with the goal of making it be the best chicken dinner experience in the world.
And in doing that, Knott's needs to move the chicken dinner restaurant inside the park gates. Leave the takeaway window outside the park if it must, but Knott's needs to hold its signature attraction inside its theme park. That would not only encourage more park visits, it would reward people who do visit the park with a opportunity for a world-class dining experience they couldn't experience otherwise.
Knott's management needs to go back and talk with people who have worked the chicken restaurant over the years to make sure that the park will be using the best recipes and best practices for Mrs. Knott's Chicken Dinners going forward. Don't let past lessons be forgotten.
While I love Roscoe's, the best chicken I ever tasted was a baked chicken at Spago in Beverly Hills. (I went for lunch - prices are much more reasonable then, FYI for any SoCal tourists. And I did get to meet Wolfgang Puck!) The chicken wasn't prepared in any fancy way - it was simply an amazing chicken. It reminded me that while there are some chickens out there that taste like chicken, there are a hell of a lot of chickens out there that taste like plastic, instead.
I'm not asking Knott's to hire Wolfgang Puck. (That didn't work out so well for California Adventure, after all.) But I will ask Knott's to ensure that it's buying the best quality, best-tasting chicken it can afford for its signature restaurant. If that means slightly higher prices, so be it. Focus on delivering value for the money paid, rather than simply providing something for the lowest possible price. (Low-ball pricing is Knott's current mistake, IMHO.) Southern California grows some of the best food in the world. Great Southern California restaurants should celebrate that, not truck in frozen crud from a low bidder elsewhere in the country.
I also wouldn't rebuild Mrs. Knott's restaurant on its current site. As I mentioned before, I would bring it inside the park. Two reasons: first, if Knott's rebuilt on the current site it would either have to close the restaurant for an extended period or subject diners to a noisy, unpleasant renovation. Second, by building a new restaurant, Knott's could employ a better, more comfortable and rewarding design that could signal a change in direction for the entire park.
Imagine a large 1930's, white clapboard farmhouse, with large windows opening into inviting dining rooms, where diners gather around polished wooden tables, sitting on well-upholstered chairs, enjoying dinners served on simple, buy high-quality servingware. This isn't the worn interior of current Knott's buildings. While the theme is a simple country farmhouse, it is built and appointed with the finest, most durable construction material available so that every inch of every surface always looks and feels sturdy, warm, comfortable and immaculately clean.
Nor is this a museum of Knott's history. The theme is a 1930s farmhouse, and when you step inside, it's the 1930s. Mrs. Knott herself is unseen in the kitchen, frying your chicken and baking your pie, while her friends bring it out to you and yours. That's the story, and they're sticking to it. The costumes, the decor and the employees themselves all must support this theming.
Serve us the best chicken we've ever tasted in this wonderful, inviting room and give Knott's a highlight no other theme park can duplicate.
I've got more, but let's give you your chance to speak. What advice do you have for Knott's?