Upscale Bowling

I don’t bowl often, maybe once a year at best. It’s a fun way to spend a couple hours – I imagine many of you have done the same. Regardless of location they all seem about the same. Mostly quiet, not fancy, maybe even utilitarian in most ways. Food. Not great food, but good enough for an afternoon or evening outing. Shoe rental, the faint smell of the oil on the lanes, rack and racks of bowling balls. You’ve been there, right?

This past week we tried Splitsville here in Orlando, a (sort of) re-imagining of bowling. It’s located in what used to be the Virgin Megastore at Downtown Disney. I think you might call it full service bowling. When you enter you have a choice of just dining, or bowling with the option of having food delivered to your lane. Bowling is $15/hour per person and that includes shoes. They enter the bowlers names for you in the scoring system, ask for your shoe size, and then a – host/hostess? – puts the shoes in a basket and walks you to your assigned lane, in our case on the second floor.

Feels a bit nicer than average. Seating area is not typically alley, there is table with a bench and some chairs. Shoes are velcro closures, nice. All automatic scoring system is nice too, fully modern. Put your shoes on and start bowling. They have bumpers so the kids have a decent shot of hitting pins, and here it’s per player, so they go up and down as needed.

We managed two full games in our hour, a group without kids might stretch to three, not sure. The scoreboard shows time remaining and when you’re out of time, the lane goes dark and the pins won’t reset again. Lunch was $48 before tip for the four of us (a hamburger was $12). The burger was ok, but I’d have called it more like a $9 burger. Server takes your order and deliverers the food, does drink refills. Three of us bowled, so another $45 for that. Easily a $100 outing.

There is a full bar upstairs, another outside, and a sushi bar (which seems strange, but that’s just me maybe). They have full dinner items on the menu as well, I think a steak was $22. A few pool tables. I don’t remember seeing the arcade games, may have been on the first floor.

I can’t remember what we spent the last time we did bowling. Usually you pay per game plus one fee for shoes and I try not to eat while bowling, the food isn’t usually that good, so it feels like this was much more expensive – but on just the bowling, maybe not.

So, is this better? From a business perspective I’m intrigued. Per hour charges in advance are nice. People play and then move on, no taking two hours to play three games. Full service food of reasonable quality seems like it will do well, and again, because the bowling is time-boxed, you get to turn the tables like clockwork. Small gift shop at the exit is a nice touch.

Given a choice of this style or the ‘old’ style, we’d probably pick this one – nicer place, better food, full service (and given how rarely I bowl, any price difference for the bowling doesn’t matter much). That’s for the once or twice a year thing, because it’s an extra 30 minutes to get to compared to the one down the street. Bowling every week the extra drive time would rule out Splitsville for me.

Overall I thought their implementation was well done and given the location in Downtown Disney I think it will probably do well. It’s worth trying once and you probably haven’t been bowling lately anyway, right?

Looking forward to comments and thoughts on this one.