Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Evaluating Rink Facilities--Part 1 Off Ice

I'm a systems engineer.  I work and skate with other engineers. For us, walking into a new rink and checking out the facilities is always fun.  I'm not talking about evaluating the coaches or the freestyle sessions, or the psychotic skating moms. It's the facilities, staff and public sessions I'm interested in.

First off, the exterior:  Does it look presentable and welcoming? Parking lot well lit? People think of rinks as safe. Generally true, but a place that's surrounded by trash and has an unlit parking lot should set up mental alarms. There is one rink I won't go to after dark because of the parking lot. It is unlit and surrounded by dense stands of trees. Oh so pretty in the daytime. Oh such a nice place for bad guys to hide at night.

Front Lobby:  Is there a manageable line to the cashier, or is it a big pool of people trying to figure out who's next? A rink I visited recently had a roped off cashier's line to keep it neat. Classy. Is the cashier organized? Or are they confused by the POS menus and credit issues. I've stood in line for 5 minutes waiting for a single person to get a credit card payment to work.   What about the skate rental area? Is there one of those boot sizing mats on the floor? That's very helpful. Now for a caution: If there are lockers, do they look like they've been broken into? That always makes me think twice.

What I'd like to see in a front lobby is an standalone system where regulars with their own skates can upgrade their cards and pay for sessions without going through the cashier. That would be sweet.

Seating area: Are there benches (preferable), or individual chairs welded to tables (ugh)? Are there places to put skate bags?  I was at a rink recently where they had only a single line of benches, no place to put shoes and skate bags. The lobby floor was littered with people's stuff.  If the fire marshall had seen it he would have closed the place down.  Are the booting benches placed so rink observers take up space there? Or is there a special observers area? I skated at a rink where the booting area was placed so observers could see the rink. I had to sit on the wet floor to put my boots on so lazy, fat parents with their kindles could watch their precious. Look parents, if you care that much about your precious, get your lazy fat self out on the ice, other wise go sit in the stands, not the booting area. Yes, I'm still ticked off. That floor was nasty.

This is an area of rink design that I've only seen done well in a couple of rinks. The metal benches with the cross bars underneath so you can't put your bag or shoes out of the way are particularly odious. One rink had built crude benches with shelves underneath; nice touch. It kept the lobby clear.  The booting up area is done so poorly at some rinks it  sometimes seems like the skater is the last thing on anyone's mind when they're building a rink.

Rink Staff:  Uniforms such as rink T shirts are nice. But rude and confused lobby staff send a message that worse is to come. The cashier is particularly important. A poorly set up POS system that the staff cant work with , can really mess with guest time in line and overall satisfaction. I either have a rink card or pay cash to avoid any problems with paying. (Although one rink cashier looked at me in shock. "No one pays in cash anymore.")

1. Exterior--watch for safety and crime issues
2. Front lobby--payment and staff should be well organized.
3. Seating--places for shoes and bags,  seating should be structured so that it's convenient for skaters not for observers
4. Rink Staff--are they visible? Paying attention to the customer rather than their friends?

Tomorrow I'll talk about the ice side of the rinks.


  1. I love our rink; four ice pads (one that has seats for 1500) and 22 change rooms. When you come in, you check the screens to see what rink you're on and what changing room(s) you have. Those not in use are kept locked. Aside from some rinkside bleachers, there is seating upstairs that overlooks each rink. The facility is only 2 years old and whenever my daughter goes to a competition/exhibition elsewhere I am reminded of how lucky we are. :)

  2. I love your engineer's take on ice skating, Babbette. Is systems engineering a discipline of industrial engineering? If I'd known what that was before I started college, I wonder if I might have ended up as an engineer myself. As it is, I went to an engineering college and studied computer science. My strongest interests are in designing interfaces for great user interaction. I've sometimes thought about starting a blog called, "How I'd Redesign the World" and certainly there could be some entries about improving ice rink systems and facilities. They certainly could be subjected to the "Don't make me think" principle!