Per my stay-at-home dad duties, I go to every school party and activity that I possibly can for all 3 of our kids. As the school year ends, this week has been especially busy with school programs, field day and class parties. Today we had a preschool party at a bounce house place in a nearby town, and it was quite the experience, full of ups and downs for the kids.
HOW NOT TO RUN A BUSINESS FOR KIDS
Let’s be real. Kids are going to have fun at a bounce house, indoor playground, trampoline park, etc. It would really take a lot to totally ruin the experience, and while they are caught up in all the fun, they may not notice (or care because they are kids) how poorly the place is managed. However as a parent and a former children’s minister who ran various numerous events and programs for kids, I could not help but wonder how a business whose entire clientele is kids could be so careless with a facility full of kids running around jumping and throwing balls at each other.
This particular business has about 5-6 different large inflatables and a big wooden playground (with several slides) in the middle. It is big enough to give kids a few options but small enough where you can keep your eyes on your kids from just about anywhere in the room. As far as I could tell all the equipment was in good condition and as safe as could be expected.
In other words, this business, physically, is not a hazardous or unsafe environment, but poor management decisions, clearly based solely on profits, create unnecessary hazards and misfortunes.
To say that this bounce house business is understaffed would imply that the business is actually staffed. Does one young lady left alone to run an entire large facility on her own mean the business is staffed? This one college-aged worker was responsible for a huge building full of wild kids, taking payments at the front counter, running the snack bar in the back and preparing the party room for our group of 43 kids. Granted, we had lots of parents there, and we were obviously trying to make sure our kids did not break their necks or burn the place down. However, on the business side, I cannot imagine the liability of having a facility of this nature and not having a single employee present in the room of inflatables to monitor things. If anyone got hurt or broke something expensive, this lady would have had no idea.
Additionally with only 1 employee present, and with her basically in the concession area the entire time, seemingly simple and necessary things (for a business concerned with profit) like collecting entrance payments were not happening. Most of us just walked in and let our kids start playing because there was no one at the front counter. The entire party it was never brought up to actually pay. I did not leave without finding a way to pay, and while I imagine the other parents from our group did the same thing, it would have been just as easy to leave without paying if I had no moral code.
HOT & NO WATER FOUNTAIN
It is 90º today, and the AC did not appear to be working very well. I understand that it is a large, open room that may be difficult to keep cool during the summer. I am sure it is expensive to cool this building, so they don’t turn the temperature down too low. It was not dangerously hot for me standing around, but with kids running and jumping nonstop for 2 hours, they were constantly red-faced, sweaty and very hot. I can accept this as part of the territory of physical play, but what I find unacceptable in this situation is that this building does not have a water fountain. They have signs posted about every 5 feet saying “ABSOLUTELY NO OUTSIDE FOOD OR DRINK ALLOWED INSIDE THIS BUILDING.”
So let me get this straight… they keep the building a little too warm for the kind of physical activity going on inside, do not allow you to bring in your own bottled water, do not offer a water fountain anywhere on site and only allow your kids to hydrate by purchasing overpriced drinks from the snack bar (if you are lucky enough to find the sole worker and get her to help you). This seems illegal to me, but I do not really know the local codes for water fountain requirements. Even if this practice is legal, it is irresponsible. Maybe I do not understand the financial pressure of running my own business, but I personally believe that if you cannot afford to do things the right (and safe) way and turn the profit you need to stay in business, then you should either charge more (and therefore offer simple things like decent air conditioning and water fountains) or go into a different line of business.
The heat and thirst were affecting my family as my kids were constantly coming to me complaining, and they were starting to get into really bad moods instead of just enjoying all the fun stuff. My response to this business’ desire to profit on my children’s dehydration was mad rebellion as I walked out to my car and brought in 2 bottles of water for my 3 kids to share. We sat down in front of the “no outside drinks” sign and drank our outside drinks. Luckily we did not get caught since there were no employees anywhere to be found.
WHERE DID THAT 1 EMPLOYEE GO?
To be fair, we did have a snack time as part of our class party, and each kid got the tiniest bag of popcorn I’ve ever seen and a small cup of red Kool-Aid. My kids do not like Kool-Aid, and no water was offered to our group. Good thing I snuck in those 2 water bottles! After we left the party room to get back to all the bouncy fun time, that 1 employee apparently was over all of it, so when her boyfriend showed up at the end of our snack time, she stayed in the party room with him for the last 30+ minutes, never to be seen again.
BIG KIDS AT A PRESCHOOL PARTY
This was a preschool party, but many of the kids, including my son, brought their older siblings along. I asked beforehand and got permission to bring all 3 kids, and there was plenty of room at the facility for siblings. The problem is that the bounce houses all have lots of playground balls inside them, and the big kids (10-12 years old) liked to throw the balls at the younger kids. When impromptu dodgeball broke out, many kids (including mine) came out crying because they got hit in the face by a ball.
It was at this point that I thought to myself, “Wow this whole party is an emotional roller coaster for these kids! One minute they are having sooooooo much fun, and the next they are crying. Five minutes later their thirst and emotional dodgeball scars are forgotten, and it is back to pure fun until the next peg to the face.”
WHO IS THIS LADY SUDDENLY YELLING AT MY KIDS?
With literally 7 minutes left in our 2-hour party, some other lady suddenly appears and starts yelling at all the kids. She must have been the owner or the manager, but whoever she was, it was obvious she did not want to be there. Many of the kids had kicked off their socks (Wearing socks is a rule for the inflatables.), so she yelled at the kids about their socks and because a few kids were climbing on the wrong parts of inflatables. I understand that the kids were not following some of their rules, but I wanted to tell her it was too little too late and ask her why there were no employees keeping an eye on things the last 2 hours.
She is the one that I finally got to accept my payment at the end, but the whole time she was “helping” me, she was on the phone complaining to someone about how she was not supposed to be working today and sharing her frustration about the other lady who had disappeared for the last 30 minutes of our party. There is nothing like bashing your job and your coworkers openly in front of customers.
Despite the negatives, my kids all had a blast at the party. Having fun heals many wounds, and grumpiness subsides with illegal bottled water! We do love inflatables, but the kids get them enough at school and church that I probably will not take them back to this party place too often. When I do, maybe I will bring my 2-liter hydration backpack.