Tim Bobko

“It is just some crackers and a PB and J sandwich!” the lady screamed at me, clearly upset that my associates would not let her pass the bag check with her food.

“I understand. Our policy states that no outside food or beverage is allowed into the waterpark,” I said. It’s a statement I have recited time and time again to guests from all walks of life.

Our waterpark policy is posted at the entrance and listed on our website, but guests still try to make it past our associates. There are many variables that can cause guests to bring in food that is not allowed: food allergies, religious dietary needs, and life style choices that guests bring up as reasons why their gluten-free, organic, farm-raised chicken noddle soup must be allowed in. “It’s the only food he eats,” the mom of a toddler states. “Yes, I understand” is the reply. But should it then be allowed?

The choice is hard to make whether you’re a front desk agent, security guard, lifeguard, supervisor, manager or director. Screaming mothers and fathers tell you that this is ruining their day, vacation or family time … that you’re the worst and are going to get fired for “following the rules.” It can be easy to just let them pass and breathe a sigh of relief: “Phew, that’s over.” Until the very next guest and the next have the same issues.

When does it stop?

I have been on the side of both decisions. They both have equally good and bad outcomes. However, there is only one correct choice: Follow the policy of your company and do not let the food inside.

Typically, the first contact for these issues are our front-line associates, and they do a great job making sure to enforce our rules and regulations to all of our incoming guests. By the time the issue has reached me (as the director), three levels of management have stood firm and enforced the policy. They are being consistent. That means I am, too. If not, we all lose creditability and trust. If everyone enforces the rule, it makes it easier for everyone.

That said, just because you’re enforcing the rule doesn’t mean you can’t offer options. I’ve found that giving the guest alternative options on where they can enjoy food can help alleviate their frustrations. Have a designated picnic area that guests can use to enjoy their own food. Be sure to inform them politely and escort them if possible. Another option: Offer to hold their nonperishable items while they take the food back to their room or cars. Or provide lockers outside of the park, where guests can easily access their items without breaking the rules.


1. Always enforce rules. Your company agreed upon those rules, and is paying you to uphold them, no matter what. You’re an extension of the company and its protocols. If you don’t enforce the rules, it makes the company, your team and you look as if you don’t care about your company. This goes for all levels. It’s a lesson I had to learn the hard way.

2. We’re a team and should have each other’s backs. From front-line associates to management, it’s important that everyone at all levels stands firm and enforces the policy. By doing so, they maintain their credibility and trust — and make it easier for everyone.

3. Give guests options. Alternatives could be a designated picnic area where people can enjoy their own food, or lockers provided outside the park where they can access their items without breaking the rules. Either way, the idea is ensuring that we’re giving them a choice and not just saying “no.”