This can be a tough one to navigate. Should you charge for the 85-year-old grandmother that is just there to watch her grandchild open presents at a birthday party? Should you charge for parents that are there to help with the field trip? What about someone that is physically handicapped and won’t be participating in any activities? These are all tough scenarios to navigate while keeping your customers happy but let’s talk through some of the options you have.
Insurance First and foremost, check with your insurance carrier to see what their requirements are around this. I have never personally run into a provider that cared one way or the other but it is always a good idea to check. I have seen some venues state that they have to pay insurance for every individual that uses the farm and they post that as their reason they have to charge for everyone that enters the farm whether they participate or not. All of the policies I have had were based on revenue rather than attendance but I wouldn’t be surprised if there are some that calculate based on attendance. Bottom line is that you should check with your insurance carrier before making a decision.
À La Carte vs. Gate Fee Obviously if you don’t charge a gate fee, this won’t be an issue for you except for fields trips and other groups which we will address next.
Field Trips I am a big believer in not only allowing but encouraging a certain ratio of chaperones to students and allowing these chaperones in for free. This will really help you keep things organized and help with keeping the kids safe and where they need to be. We have personally used the ratio 1 free chaperone for every 8 kids. We would allow additional chaperones to come but they would have to pay the field trip student price.
Youth Groups, Scout Groups, & Others For other non field trip groups, we would typically ask all attendees to pay the full price or group rate if applicable. For these older aged groups, the chaperones do less oversight and more participation so we treat them as a typical customer.
Non-Participating Chaperones This is where things get tricky to navigate. I have found that the best customer service allows for flexibility and working with the individual needs and concerns of your customers. You will run into scenarios where you have a family with older grandparents that aren’t there to participate, but would still like to sit at a picnic table and watch their grandkids play.
Do you hold fast to your rule that everyone pays full price? Do you let them in for free and hope they don’t then decide they want to ride on the hayride or do the corn maze? We have tried a variety of things over the years and I don’t think there is one answer that works for every venue or every situation.
For us, we finally landed on a policy that we would allow a non-participating guest to enter at a significantly reduced price (like $2). This was not a policy we had published on our website or our signage or anywhere else but was something our check in staff was aware of and could offer for those situations where it was legitimately warranted. They would also get a bright Red wristband which would alert the staff that they had agreed at check-in that they would not be able to participate in any of the activities.
Is it easier to just have an “everybody pays” policy? Yes – that makes things much simpler and easier from an administration standpoint. Does that meet your criteria of providing exceptional customer service? For us, we felt we wanted to flex with the needs of our guests and provide that extra touch.
Wheelchairs or Other Special Needs You will have other scenarios where a clear policy ahead of time will avoid confusion and frustration on those busy days. If someone comes that has some physical limitations, how much of your activities will they be able to participate in? Should you have a similar policy that allows some pricing flexibility for those that have limited mobility? For our venues, we were able to accommodate wheelchairs in the maze, on the hayride, and many of our other activities so we did not provide special pricing in the majority of cases but it is something that you should evaluate and have a policy in place for.
VIP Guests This doesn’t directly relate to this topic but also make sure your check-in staff is aware of any guests that you want to let in for free. This would usually be sponsors and media but could be extended family and others as well. We typically had VIP tickets printed up that we would give to the media and to our sponsors. We wrote codes on the back that indicated who the tickets were given to and that staff would radio me to let me know if a VIP guest had checked in so I could be sure to personally greet them.
Wrap Up The main point of this post is to get you to think about your current policies and to analyze if you need to make any adjustments. Are you too strict with your policy leaving no room for special exceptions? Are you too lenient and have too generous of a policy? Find that balance of great customer service and practicality of business execution, but if you are going to err one way or the other, err on the side of exceptional customer service.