Break The Ice

Over the past few years, interest in ice skating has declined. In response, the San Diego Ice Arena has taken steps to increase its customer flow.

Owners of the private company knew there was more to changing the focus of the facility than just opening the doors and making a good sheet of ice. So they focused on creating specialized public programs; the intent was to separate experienced figure skaters from first-time skaters, and to hold different birthday parties for young children and teenagers. Although each public session has a specific age group in mind, the main focus is the same--to have fun and learn.

Amid the strategy to increase attendance, a remarkable product emerged--an all-inclusive birthday party package. It not only personalizes the experience for a child so that he or she is the center of attention, but also forces others to come to the party and skate--some for the very first time.

And the birthday party program markets itself because it relies on word-of-mouth--it takes one family to decide to celebrate a birthday at the ice rink, and it opens the facility to an average of ten more families.

Here are five steps to running a successful birthday party in an ice arena:

1. Personalize the experience. Make the birthday boy or girl the center of attention at all times; try not to worry about making the parents happy. Trust me, it works.

2. Control the experience. Learn the children’s names, and get down to their level--physically and mentally. Memorize names through repetition. Children don’t mind being asked their name repeatedly, so don’t be shy. Get down to their level and look them in the eyes. And play a game for every event of the day--even eating. Games like Duck, Duck, Goose, Simon Says, Take a Bite of Your Pizza and Red Light, Green Light help control every action. Hint--it’s the promise of prizes that keeps their attention.

3. Handle all transition points to make it easy for first-time skaters. For example, greet guests outside (you will be the only one in town to do this). Take them from one place to another in a fun way--like a conga line. Lace up each child’s skates and then give a short off-ice and on-ice lesson. Play more games before they even skate.

4. Deliver a fun skate session, with more pre-planned games on the ice. Examples include the Chicken Dance, Hokey Pokey, Freeze or Statue, Limbo on Ice, Giant Parachute, Frozen Turkey Bowling and my personal favorite, the Happy Birthday sing-along with the birthday child in the middle of the rink. Whatever games you play, keep them fun, safe and consistent--week in and week out.

5. Deliver the “wow.” This occurs when departing party guests think, “I can’t believe they did all of that just for him or her.” And most importantly--be sincere. There’s no better feeling than having a child come up to the party hero, give a hug, and thank him or her.

Gaston Larios is the owner of the San Diego Ice Arena, a club that offers figure skating, hockey, public sessions and birthday parties. For more information, visit