Secrets of Orlando's 'Harry Potter' Theme Park Success

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in , at 1/21/2014 08:51:00 AM
You needn't be a movie star to enjoy Butterbeer,; just head to Orlando FL
Here's another example of the fallibility of what you read on the Internet--this time from, er, me. Three years ago, I thought that the development of a Harry Potter theme park in Orlando, Florida based on the world-conquering series of books and cinematographic adaptations was a bad idea. Why? Simply put, it deals with location, location, location. If the series were set in a sunny and humid climate where the protagonists wore beach shorts and flip-flops all the time, then there would be no problem. As it is, however, the series is set in a dark, dank, and damp England.

So, kudos are due to Universal Studios since things have turned out very well. They took risks and have been handsomely rewarded. All the same, the secret weapon behind its success is an unlikely one: Harry Potter happens in a virtual (non-existent) space you must reach by boarding a fictional train. However, the evocative appeal of hypothetical foodstuffs being served in this realm have long attracted attention from fans and foodies alike. Use "Harry Potter cookbook" for your search terms on Amazon and knock yourselves out. As it so happens, much of Universal's financial success has to do with being authentic--in spirit at least--to foodstuffs from the movie.

For the first time ever, we have an excerpt from Tourist Attractions & Parks magazine on food theming:
Yet, despite these three different [ride] thrills, the real story behind the success of Universal’s Harry Potter world centers around the less publicized but higher profit food, beverage, and merchandise operations that seem to have cast an irresistible spell on guests and their pocket books...

According to Brent Young, the president of Super 78, a visual solutions company with deep roots in the theme park industry, “it is well known in the creative community that theming food and beverage creates a consistent guest experience and park attendees are much more likely to want to interact with the themed environment in a real way.” This is what makes the food and beverage operations at the Wizarding World even more impressive:  Universal was able to take an existing concept, themed dining, and transform it into part of the overall “storyline” while still making mounds of money in the process.
Take, for instance, "butterbeer":
Up until the Wizarding World debuted, the fascinating drinks and meals that Rowling created in Harry’s World had been intricately described by the author but never really tasted.  After all, these dishes and beverages never actually exist beyond the pages of the novels [but see my rejoinder above on unofficial themed cookbooks].  This meant that, in developing the culinary side of Harry Potter’s world, Universal had to transform fictional items to real-world tastes.

An easy and less expensive route could have been to de-emphasize the culinary authenticity of that part of the Wizarding World.  Sources close to the project, though, explain that [series author J.K.] Rowling would have none of this.  Her dictate was that all aspects, not just the attractions and physical buildings, must transport the guest into Harry’s world.

As a result, Universal spent large amounts of time and money to refine the recipe for the iconic Butterbeer beverage from the Potter novels.  Numerous recipes and taste tests were held to refine every aspect from the first sip to the final aftertaste.  This was all done to insure that Butterbeer was not too sweet nor too bitter, not too syrupy nor too watery.  Not too everything nor too everything else but instead the perfect replication of a heretofore fictional drink.

The end product was one of the amusement industry’s most expensively designed beverages ever, and, according to these same sources, one of the most financially successful ones ever.  Indeed, this investment has yielded amazing revenue for Universal, more so than even their most optimistic expectations.
As far as I can tell, the shortcomings of the Orlando climate in mimicking that of England are more than made up for in the minds of punters (Brit-speak for paying customers) by authenticity to fictional foodstuffs. They stand in line for minutes and are more than happy to do so. Go figure; I guess there are good reasons why I'm not in the theme park business.