I just had to explain to my three-year-old girl that she had to leave the bounce house because “that man says her time was up”, putting her in tears. My five-year-old was more compliant with the instruction.
“That man” was the operator / staffer who also, moments ago, offered to let me pony up another 3 tickets (at $1 / ticket) for another 3 minutes in the bouncehouse. (3 tickets is the gate-fee for using the bounce house)
If you don’t understand why this is a problem, it is likely that you have never taken a young child to a bounce house, which I suspect is most likely the case for the teen-aged operator. The festival, as a whole, was organized by a large group of other youth in his age-group, and for the most part, was done well. But the bouncehouse was clearly not planned by someone who had done proper market research into what their consumers (children ages 2-7, typically, and the parents who bring them) are expecting.
Let me explain:
Here is our experience, from beginning to tearful end:
The kids were very excited about the prospects of getting to play in the bouncehouse. At most festival events downtown, there are almost always bouncehouses set up. They have been talking about playing in it all week. It is an EXPERIENCE for them.
When we approached the bounce house, I inquired about how much it was to get in, and was told it would be “3 tickets”. $3 per child is a little steep for a bouncehouse, but not entirely unacceptable. We acquired tickets and returned. The children removed their shoes and we… waited for the two children inside to finish?
PROBLEM #1: The operator was not allowing new children to enter until the previous entrants were done.
This is wrong, but I understand how they came to this conclusion.
Part of the bouncehouse experience is playing with other children — it’s like going to the park, or playing in a field, or pretty much any social activity for kids. When I take my kids to the park, they will always choose a park that is frequented by more children than one that has cooler fixtures.
I get that it’s easier for the operator to manage timing usage of the bouncehouse when he knows that all the children start and end at the same time.
But there are a number of problems with this:
- The bouncehouse will almost always be running under-capacity. If the bouncehouse is limited to 10 children concurrently, it is unlikely you will have 10 children entering it all at once.
- Fewer children playing it is less attractive to new children.
- YOU ARE LIMITING THE AMOUNT OF TIME CHILDREN CAN USE IT.
PROBLEM #2: The operator was limiting the duration the children could use the bouncehouse.
Again, I understand how they got to this. When Freyja tearfully exited the bouncehouse, and I was helping her put her shoes on, an adult staffer who was there said to her “Aw, I know you’re sad — you’d probably be in there all day if you could, right?”
But the thing is, that’s not the case. For starters, no parent is going to leave their kids in there all day, because that would mean they would be sitting there all day. It is completely reasonable to ask the parents that they remain present while their children are inside too, so this can be one limiting factor. Secondly, most parents are decent people and understand that their kids shouldn’t stay in there forever — 10, 15 minutes maybe, but there are plenty of other things to do around.
At Ithaca Fest, there was a bounce-house of comparable size, possibly larger, that cost $2 per child. No time limit. Most kids were in there for roughly 10 minutes on average, and left on their own. Parents imposed their own time constraints on their children, letting them play as long as they felt was reasonable. The operator had a giant wad of cash when she made me change, and the bouncehouse consistently had between 3 and 10 kids in it the entire time we were in that area.
Heck, up at Nicki’s Playplace at the mall, an entire room filled with bouncehouses, a child costs $6 for an HOUR, though they mostly rely on parents to enforce the time constraint.
Back to today.
The operator told the kids they had to vacate, the parents quietly, a little surprised, helped their kids get out, and my kids entered. After about 30 seconds, a parent with two more kids approached and their kids removed their shoes. But the operator wasn’t letting them in. I then realized how he was running it and suggested “I don’t mind if you let those kids in there to play with them, they like that.” He replied by explaining that it’s too hard to track time if he doesn’t start everyone at the same time. The nearby adult staffer suggested that maybe she could help him track time so he could do two groups at once. He relented, and they admitted a couple more kids.
My son immediately said “Hi, I’m Sullivan, what’s your name?” as they entered, then “Hey, let’s go down the slide!”
I had mixed feelings about telling him how to do his job, so I didn’t push the issue too much, though I may have tried to engage him in a dialogue about it. He didn’t seem very talkative. I also tried talking to the adult and explaining my past experience with other bouncehouses.
I stood off to the side, watching the kids play. After a couple minutes (and he may have let it run long, I don’t know), he announced that the kids who had been their first had to get out. I said nothing, fully aware of my passive-aggressiveness. Sullivan stood there, not quite sure what to think, but stepped out when the operator addressed him personally. When he specifically addressed “little girl”, I did say “Freyja, come on, the man says you have to leave now,” which is when she started to cry. I was pretty upset at this point, and might have rebuffed the operator a little strongly when he offered to let her stay in their for 3 more minutes if I gave him 3 more tickets. I honestly don’t remember. I was just trying to figure out how to keep my kids from having a meltdown because they were being extorted for $1/min.
PROBLEM #3: Assuming that anyone would pay the gate fee more than once, under any circumstance
Whether you have no time limit or a 3 minute time limit, people are not likely to pay the gate fee, especially at those rates, more than once unless money is no object for them.
I don’t know if they planned this under the assumption that “Kids love this, so if they want to play longer than 3 minutes, they can just pay for re-entry!” which is borderline price-gouging, or if it was just assumed that 3 minutes was adequate. I don’t know. I wasn’t there during planning. Repeat-uses are unlikely, given all the other attractions present at the festival; if you expect repeat-uses, that is to the detriment of the other attractions (money is not in infinite supply for most people).
The Right Way (IMHO)
- No time limit, but require parents to be present in case of injury.
- Kids pay once, at the gate, every time they enter. (Re-entry is permitted, but they must pay each time).
- Kids are only prevented from entering if the house is at capacity, in which case those inside should be asked to step out to make room, if they’ve been in there a while. (Seriously, parents will comply with this!)
It is easier to manage this way, and the child-wrangling is delegated to the parents. Kids may, left to their own devices, play in there endlessly, take a nap, then play some more — but parents will not. The only reason to eject a child is if the house is at capacity. If you have a child in there playing and they are the only ones in there, you want them in there because it encourages other kids to play (again — kids like playing with kids more than they like playing by themselves).
You will maximize your concurrent usage, which will draw in more kids. (In the example I cited earlier, 3-10 children averaging 10 mins per child at $3 per entry would still be $117 per hour ((3*$3*6)+(10*$3*6) / 2), and the children will be happier overall. Isn’t that what’s ultimately more important? (Arbitrarily assuming 2 to 4 children concurrently at $3 / entry in 3-minute blocks, ((2*$3*20)+(4*$3*20))/2 = $180 — it is MORE per hour, but may be less sustainable, and you’re giving the kids a less fun experience).
The bean-counter approach that they used today is the same mindset that leads to posting legalese descriptions of prohibited activities at amusement parks, or the other aspects of The Culture of No! that I’ve discussed here before. The focus of your amusement feature should be that your patrons are having fun and that you are being fairly compensated. Profit maximization is a poor way to run a fun experience, and your consumers will notice. (And some of them will try to passive-aggressively make you feel shitty when they have to remove their crying 3 year old daughter at your behest)
I don’t really know how to approach this with the organizers. When I spoke with my son (five years) about this, he said (paraphrased) “the bounce house was fun but it seemed really short and the man wasn’t nice when he made us leave.” My hope is that next year, they run it differently.