Gate Fee vs. A la carte – Which one is right for your venue?
There are different ways we can charge for things we offer at our Agritourism venues from charging for each of the activities we offer, to a gate fee that includes everything, or somewhere in between. Sometimes our property layout helps to dictate which option will work best. Here is what we have found to be the pros and cons of each.
A La Carte
We did this with our first venue. Anyone could come and enjoy being on our farm and never actual spend any money if they chose not to participate in our activities or eat any food. There were a few things we offered that families could come and gain access to free-of-charge such as our petting farm and a play area. Everything else we charged a separate fee to do whether it was to ride the hayride, take a spin on the cow train, get lost in the corn maze, shoot the corn cannon, participate in our passing and kicking competition, and more.
Pros: - It allows families to come and enjoy your farm multiple times during the season without having the expense of a gate fee. For those local families, we saw that even though their per visit spending may have been lower than if we charged a gate fee, the overall seasonal spending ended up higher in most cases as they came back more often. - This model gives you more flexibility with those chaperones that were just there to supervise or provide transportation and are not happy when you require them to pay a gate fee.
Cons: - Handling tickets and/or sales at each activity can be a hassle. - You will not necessarily be getting revenue from every guest. - Not a great option if you offer a lot of extra activities that would be hard to charge individually for.
At our second venue, the property layout and large amount of activities we offered (that would be hard to charge a price for) helped make it obvious that a gate fee would work better. The guests would pay at the gate, receive a wristband that would include most of the activities that were available. They could do many of the activities such as the corn maze, hayride, cow train, pedal carts, inflatables, and more, as many times as they wanted to at no additional cost. We did have some activities that were an additional charge such as the cannons or any contests.
Pros: - Significantly reduces the need for your staff to handle tickets and/or money at the actual activities. - Most customers see this as a higher value than the a la carte model. - You are making revenue from every guest that visits your farm activities.
Cons: - Can be pricey for large families on a budget which will limit return trips during your season. - You will need to figure out how to handle guests that are just there to chaperone. This will be the topic of our next blog post.
In either case we think that it is a good idea to offer a limited menu of combo or family pricing which will help increase the per person sale and will pre-sell some of the activities or even pumpkins at your venue. We also think having special discount weekends is a great way to market your venue, get your sponsors involved, or give back to your community such as through a military discount.
I looked back and averaged out the amount spent per person for the years we did a la carte in Wisconsin and compared it to the amount spent per person for the years we did a gate fee in Pennsylvania and I was surprised to see that they were nearly identical! There are other reasons to choose one method over the other but based on our numbers, the bottom line of income does not seem to be one of them. Choose which one fits your goals, layout, and business the best.